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Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix Award winner

Evergrey
Escape Of The Phoenix
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 22 December 2020, 6:13 AM

EVERGREY is a Swedish progressive metal band formed in 1995.  They have been rather prolific since their debut album was released in 1998, with albums being released every two or three years.  Flash forward to 2014 and the band leader Tom Englund started the band on the path of a trilogy.  This trilogy, which deal with a lot of personal issues that Tom was working through, started in 2014 with “Hymns For The Broken,” ran through 2016’s “The Storm Within” and concluded with 2019’s near perfect “The Atlantic.”

Even for EVERGREY, a band whose lyrics have always been on the darker side of life, the trilogy was often times very emotionally abrasive.   The demons, regrets, and acceptance of all he went through translated well to their brand of hard hitting prog as one would be hard pressed to find any fan who didn’t love the trilogy.  I don’t believe EVERGREY have any bad albums (although I obviously like some more than others) but the band really poured their essence into the past few albums.

So where does EVERGREY go from here?  After such a successful musical opus that was the combined efforts of the trilogy, how could they possibly go on?  Did they finally run out of ideas?  Did Tom emotionally exhaust himself to the point where the next album would be paint by numbers and hollow? Hell no. Not only did EVERGREY manage to navigate their own murky waters to create another worthy album but “Escape Of the Phoenix” is a successful album on every level imaginable and will go down as one of the best albums in their discography.

One thing I have always appreciated about EVERGREY, since the moment I bought “Recreation Day,” on a whim when it came out after haven’t heard the band before, is that unlike so many other prog metal bands, they can see the forest for all the trees.  Their music is expansive with emotional depth but they have never been too overly technical or bloated.  Their focus has always been a laser point and they have yet to get trapped in their own way or walk too far from their path.  Prog bands tend to do this, even the best of them, but EVERGREY is one of the most consistent bands on the planet.

Escape Of The Phoenix,” is an album of dense heaviness.  The riffs are down tuned and somewhat dissonant at times, adding to the intensity of even to a couple of the so called “ballads” that have become a standard of making an appearance or two on each of their albums.  The guitar tone is deadly, crushing, yet clear enough for the riffs to be well defined and articulate.  Henrik and Tom bring their “A” game here and it slays.

Johan, who has been with the band for a long time now having joined on 2011’s vastly underrated “Glorious Collision,” is perhaps the MVP of the album (outside of Tom’s vocals, of course).  After seeing them live a year or so ago, I realized his bass can level mountains and much of that live energy/sound translates very well to the production of “Escape of the Phoenix,” where he rains free to drop the most metal of hammers when needed or be as melodic as a whisp in the wind.

We all know that EVERGREY can name Tom as its founder and the only original member left band but we have also come to understand that it isn’t a dictatorship.  Baring a few missteps here and there, the bulk of the line up presented here have been together for a decent enough time to become a cohesive unit.  Despite much of the band’s work, especially the trilogy, seeming to stem from much of Tom’s own emotions and perspectives, they are a real band who grow musically tighter together with each passing album.

With that being said, “Escape Of The Phoenix,” feels even more like a band effort than anything they have done in the past.  Every member of the band adds as much to the album as the others and I really feel it within the music.  I’m willing to bet the trilogy was a very cathartic experience not just for Tom but for EVERGREY itself.  As such, and much like the album’s title makes me assume, the band felt more relaxed, hungry, and ready for challenges this twelfth time around.  Despite the obvious hard work that goes into writing and recording an album, I bet these five Swedes had blast doing this one.  The lyrics aren’t quite as dark and depressing either, which is a first for the band.  Don’t misunderstand me here—EVERGREY definitely aren’t singing about my little pony and pumping rainbows up an unicorn’s ass but there is hope and positivism to be found here. Every song here is great—any of them are single material.  I will highlight some of my favorites but the whole album needs a listen!

The album, which is eleven tracks and about an hour long, begins with the track and first single “Forever Outsider.”  The is an intense and fast paced opening track, something they haven’t had for an opener in some time.  Not only is it catchy but it represents the overall sound of the album and sets the tone early. The riffs are crushing and down tuned to the point where it sounds like they might just break open from pure tension.  This makes for a heavy and intense song that checks all the right boxes for what I’d want from this band.  Rikard’s keys were a highlight for me because they are expertly used to be subtle on purpose—he is so good as being aware of just how far to take his keyboard mastery.  A lot of bands either add too many layers of keys or use them in pointless ways.  Rikard, however, knows exactly what he is doing.

Stories,” is one of the album’s songs that most would call a “ballad” but that is a term I really don’t like.  It is slower paced and has quite the emotional impact but so do a lot of songs by them and others.  What “Stories” actually is, is one of the best songs they have ever done.  Even if the other songs were subpar, this one song would make the album worth the price of admission. An absolute masterpiece of a song that tugs on every string in the heart.  The chorus is heart felt, the light parts made of emotive ambiance, and the heavier aspects are all encompassing.

The Beholder,” was the first track that really blew me away upon the first listen of the album. It features the mighty James LaBrie.  His and Tom’s voice work so well together that I find myself wishing they will maybe pull an ALLEN/LANDE type project and do an album together.  Both pour themselves into the song, as does Rikard who provides the perfect soundscapes for the two singers.  The guitar hang onto the darkness of the song and push it back out tenfold with a simple but caustic performance.

Eternal Nocturnal,” is the perfect EVERGREY song:  soulful vocals on top of a competent metal band who match the emotion.  Every one of Tom’s vocal lines on this song will be stuck in your head for days, as will the riffs that tear the song up.  The chorus is beaten into the senses with a powerful performance from Jonas who, once again, proves he is the best drummer the band has ever had. I hope they play this song live because I can just picture the crowd going apeshit for this while singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs.

The title track is a rousing song, the drums beating you senseless before the first minute has even past. Tom’s gives one of his best performances on the album and the chorus is a real ear worm that just won’t let go.  Johan’s bass drops bombs throughout the song, proving once more why bass is the most important instrument in metal. The last track, “Run,” will also go down as one of the band’s best songs for me.  The keys are bombastic yet moving in the beginning.  Henrik and Tom pummeling with their guitars but aren’t afraid to shine through with some clean portions, especially the song’s mid portion,  throughout for a dynamic finish to the album.

Escape Of The Phoenix,” is easily one of the best albums they have done…and might find its way to the top of that discography for a lot of fans. It is an album that finds a band inspired, reinvigorated, and setting the stage for the rest of the career.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Forever Outsider
2. Where August Mourn
3. Stories
4. A Dandelion Cipher
5. The Beholder
6. In the Absence of Sun
7. Eternal Nocturnal
8. Escape of the Phoenix
9. You From You
10. Leaden Saints
11. Run
Lineup:
Tom S Englund - Vocals, Guitars
Henrik Danhage - Guitars
Rikard Zander - Keyboards
Jonas Ekdahl - Drums
Johan Niemann - Bass
Record Label: AFM Records
     


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