Evergrey – “Escape Of The Phoenix” (AFM Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Formed in the mid 90s in Gothenburg, where that city’s melodic death touch added plenty of heaviness to the prog power of Evergrey, some 12 albums later and “Escape Of The Phoenix” continues to shine the light of this incredible Swedish band, whose presence has been felt across the world from the stages of Sweden Rock to Download to Prog Power! Like many releases over the year, there’s no doubt the pandemic has played its part in influencing the melancholia of the material, but knowing the measure of founder vocalist guitarist Tom S Englund, that role has only served as a catalyst to the blinding uplift, hope and love inherent in the 11 brilliant tracks here. With Englund’s own inspiration James LaBrie (Dream Theatre) guesting on a duet, the album’s lyrics continue the theme set over the last 25 years in being a therapeutic outlet for the Evergrey frontman, and having concluded the previous conceptual trilogy in 2019’s “The Atlantic”, Englund only digs even deeper into himself this time around, with the material being more metallic and direct, according to producer Jabob Hansen. Opening with ‘Forever Outsider’, heavy drums and massive djent waves crash into you as Englund’s soul flows over the ever-twisting turns of the song driven by Johan Neimann’s sliding bass and complemented stylishly by Rikard Zander’s keyboard ambiance – there’s a lot going on there, but the precision musicianship, superb arrangements and utter beauty of the music make it hard to ignore or not be touched by for the matter. Indeed, as the main melody in ‘Where August Mourn’ hits you and carries you off into your own dreamscape, Englund’s vocals light the fire in your heart as the band continue to chop and chunder perhaps more subtly in the mix, occasionally breaking into the fore, but the overall groove and ensuing feeling is nothing short of jaw dropping, especially if you imagine yourself in tens of thousands clapping in unison to the beat – Tom, if you’re reading this, I definitely wanna see this one live! Hitting the double bass pedals on ‘Dandelion Cipher’, the djent riffs chop in along with Neimann’s twanging bass in contrast to Zander’s melodic brilliance, whether it’s adding finesse or atmosphere, all of which setup the perfect stage for Englund’s vocal expressions of emotion, whether in delicate tones or overflowing passion, before the guitars that are wailing bliss in themselves, add the final touch atop this very rich cake of an album indeed. An utter delicacy.