It came from nothingness
I never got a chance to flee
Never saw it coming
And just needed it to leave me be
Need freedom, won’t be this alone
Like life had planned to desert me
Since day one
Evergrey is my favorite metal band of all time. They are a sweeping force of dark emotion and powerful melodies. I will never tire of them. They are back once again with a new album. This one is called “Escape of the Phoenix”, and they have destroyed all of my expectations. The album releases on February 26th through AFM Records.
This Swedish band honestly doesn’t need an introduction from me. I’ve covered their work for many years. One thing I want to note, though, is that this album still features the classic lineup of the band, that being Tom S. Englund on vocals and guitars, Henrik Danhage on guitars, Rikard Zander on keyboards, Johan Niemann on bass, and Jonas Ekdahl on drums. You will also hear the legendary James LaBrie on one track.
Evergrey have their own sound. Some have tried to lump them under various metal subgenres, and it is indeed true that they dabble here and there. But their sound is Evergrey, and Evergrey is their sound. That means mighty, cinematic, explosive riffs and rhythms, but it also means unadulterated soul, vulnerable passions, and insanely catchy choruses. They are dark, yet hopeful; towering, yet imitate. They balance so many things that I love about music into one haunting, unforgettable compendium.
After the trilogy that began with “Hymns for the Broken”, continued stunningly through “The Storm Within”, and brilliantly closed with “The Atlantic”, I wasn’t sure what to expect from these guys. I mean, I knew that they were on a roll, and I didn’t think it would simply end. Yet, I did not expect an album of this breadth, strength, and majesty. “Escape of the Phoenix” is on par with both “The Storm Within” and with “The Inner Circle”, my two favorites in their catalogue. Every single song is lovingly, masterfully constructed. Each chorus packs in feelings that I recognize personally. Each layer of the mix is there to enhance and coax out the maximum expressive effect. I listened to this album for the first time at about 1:00am one night, and I was riveted to the spot. Let me tell you why.
The first thing I noticed about this record, and to a lesser extent on some of the band’s other AFM releases, is the presence of Rikard’s keys. I think Rikard is highly underrated, and it mainly is because he is understated, subtle, and introverted to some extent. Oftentimes, his melodies are what truly stand out the most for me, and on this record he is absolutely on fire. Time and again, songs on this album are taken to the next level because of a synth melody that unquestionably rocks. The mix does his input justice, too, which makes me happy.
The band released three singles, and I absolutely love all of them. “Forever Outsider” feels dynamic and nostalgic, and it has such a strong, vicious central riff that is only bested by its memorable chorus. “Eternal Nocturnal” was the next release, and with airplanes and white horses, the video portrayed a song that is deeply eccentric lyrically. The feelings on this song are very close to my heart, and I can’t help but love it. The final single is “Where August Mourns”, and this one was the best of the three, and also one of the best songs on the album. Rikard’s addictive melody is front and center; and, man, that chorus hits so hard. The guitars in the second half are brutal and pealing with utterly uncontrollable grandeur, and this song simply feels amazing.
But the rest of the album is just as good, maybe better. With eleven tracks overall, there is plenty here to love, but I have to admit that I basically just restart the album when it ends. I never want it to end. One song that definitely needs a highlight is “The Beholder”, the track with James Labrie. I’ve had a long, strange journey from liking James’ legendary crooning voice to hating it to respecting it and now to loving it more than I ever thought I could. When I heard James was going to be on this track, I was excited, which I did not expect of myself. Anyways, the song has maybe the best chorus on the album, and the overall feeling is rather spacey and introspective. In the second half, James starts to filter in, and his piercing voice is definitely the perfect layer that takes this song to another level. Tom and James sound stunningly good together, to the point where I want a full album from them now. And when James hits certain notes near the end, combined with Tom’s hovering soulfulness, I get goosebumps. What a song!
I don’t have room to discuss each and every song here, but I need to talk a bit about “Stories”, “Dandelion Cipher”, “You From You”, and “Run”. “Stories” is the longest song on the album, and borders on being a ballad. While it does have portions of heftiness, it is for the most part tender and touching, and the second half contains a segment of untainted warmth led by Rikard’s piano skills. The whirling, subtle guitars and beautiful vocals that end it are just the icing on the cake. Now, ‘Dandelion Cipher” immediately follows, and it might be the song that I find myself singing to myself the most. It’s a heavy one, yes, and the chorus has guts. I love it.
“You From You” is also a ballad of sorts. Evergrey makes the best ballads, after all. This one rocks a bit, though, and the overall feeling is one of desperation and pleading. The chorus rolls satisfyingly and the atmospheric second half is like a call to silence and contemplation. The final track, “Run”, has a thundering, imposing chorus only bested by the sweet synth melody that pierces the song straight through the belly. The song finishes the album with a delicious sense of wholeness.
Evergrey continue their hot streak, which I would, of course, say started with their debut back in 1998. “Escape of the Phoenix” just has this thorough attraction built into its DNA, though. It’s an album that is as thoughtful as it is a pure blast to hear. When you listen to it, you just want to hear it again and again, and each and every song has this aura of inspiration and veteran skill hanging about it. This is Evergrey at their best, over 20 years after they graced us with their presence, and they only seem to be getting better. I can’t recommend this album enough!
I’ll be your winds when you need a storm
Your sense of hope when you fall
I’ll be your shelter when you need a home
I’ll be your reasons to all
And when you’re feeling down and low
I’ll be your eyes in the dark
And I’ll be there when your time will come
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