[AFM Records, 2021]
Intro: Meletis Doulgeroglou
Evergrey is one of the most consistent bands with 12 albums since 1998 (The Dark Discography), although they almost disbanded after the release of the rather mediocre Glorious Collision (2011) when two key members had left the band (Henrik Danhage on guitars and Jonas Ekdahl on drums).
The combination of dark metal with progressive elements and the interesting social and introvert lyrics of the charismatic singer, guitarist and composer Tom Englund, made them especially beloved by the Greek audience mainly due to their “golden era” (2001-2004) when they released the best and their more progressive releases, In Search of Truth, Recreation Day and The Inner Circle.
After the return of Danhage and Ekdahl, their music changed course towards a more direct approach and despite the enthusiastic and melancholic Hymns For the Broken (2014), what followed was not as good. The question is whether they continue with the same recipe or try something different.
Trapped in self-made limitations
The dawn of 2021 finds Evergrey undaunted and productive. Besides, they had to continue after the trilogy concept that started with Hymns For the Broken (2014), continued with The Storm Within (2016) and ended with The Atlantic (2019). Apart from the excellent Hymns For the Broken, the whole project did not convince me, mainly due to the repeated pattern in the next two albums. Escape of the Phoenix is clearly inspired by these albums. The progressive unpredictability and the intensely dark environment has given way to a dynamic musical content with a little less black tones. Is this bad? It wouldn’t be if it was a springboard for different creativity or a refreshing breath in the sound of Evergrey, which btw is one of my favorite bands.
But the truth is that the Swedes, having signed with a mainstream record label such as AFM Records, are addressing a wider audience at the expense of compositional depth. Of course their performance is as effective as possible and I have to admit that Tom Englund is like the good old wine, his voice dominates and raises the level of what he sings. With such a characteristic voice and executional skill, he’d even make a shopping list sound interesting. But that’s the problem, can this be enough? Of course we hear some very strong riffs and nice solos (for example in Eternal Nocturnal) from the underrated Henrik Danhage, while the other composer, Jonas Ekdahl, delivers technical drumming. Richard Zander’s keys enrich the sound, everything is mixed and produced professionaly as always, and Tom Englund’s lyrics are once again personal but always effective. Overall, the material is tighter and sounds smoother than the previous album, an important element in which the Swedes worked harder while the ballads are really enjoyable, especially Stories. Besides, given the directness of the album, Forever Outsider and A Dandelion Cipher will be ideal hits on stage, whenever live performances are allowed again. Perhaps the most experimental element of Escape of the Phoenix is Englund’s duet with James LaBrie in The Beholder, with Englund’s voice clearly dominating while LaBrie sounds rather weak.
However, there are no bold and epic compositions or emotionally honest and charged melancholic elegies. The melodies are still catchy as well as several choruses, but if we accept that Evergrey’s best is the safe path they’ve consciously chosen or filler tracks like Run then we are talking about another band and not the one that has composed songs like Mark of the Triangle, The Great Deceiver, A Touch of Blessing, and The Grand Collapse among others.
But because I refuse to lower the bar, I can only say that although the phoenix escaped (by the way, Giannis Nakos’ cover artwork is wonderful), Evergrey themselves refuse to leave the easy path. Therefore, although the album is audio accessible and entertaining, their previous discography is recommended for anyone who wants to understand what the name Evergrey means.
6.5 / 10
It’s been quite a few albums already but especially after the return of guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl, Evergrey have put out quite consistent sounding albums. Too consistent if I may say so. Mid paced, double bass, heavy riffs and keyboards adding some layers here and there. This was the sound in the The Storm Within same in The Atlantic and the same recipe is followed this year with Escape of the Phoenix. While this sound might work for a full on heavy power metal release, there are some elements missing from the earlier days of the band. Tom Englund is impeccable as ever with his melodies however there are only a few moments where the guitar or the keys lead a melody (not a memorable melody but any melody). Most of the 58 minutes of the album is full speed ahead with some necessary breaks for ballads. By all means this is a well-played and performed album only lacking some elements that will make the fans of Evergrey feel they are living through a second youth of the band.
6.5 / 10