Sunday, 2 November 2014

Evergrey's 'Hymns for the Broken' - Album Review

When people talk about progressive metal, you tend to think about long, complex songs with plenty of elongated instrumental sections. This can often fill people with dread (not me - I love it!) but not all progressive metal bands are like that. Sweden's Evergrey is a prime example of this. They cater in emotionally-charged songwriting that aim to create a specific kind of atmosphere, rather than going for the over-the-top compositions. While they have never been as successful as some of their contemporaries, they have always maintained a loyal following and have been praised by fans and music critics alike. Unlike the soaring vocals of many other progressive metal bands, Evergrey's founder and sole original member, Tom S. Englund has a much deeper voice, which he uses well to convey the emotions in his music. His vocals are a key part of what makes the band stand out from the crowd, and there is a reason he is often considered to be one of the best vocalists in metal. Since releasing the band's eighth album Glorious Collision in 2011, times have been tough for Englund. That album was made with three new members of the band and it did not reach the heights that he had come accustomed to. In fact, things got so bad that the band nearly broke up, something which Englund has highlighted in many recent interviews. It is a good thing that they did not however as Hymns for the Broken, their ninth album, is fantastic. Both guitarist Marcus Jidell and drummer Hannes van Dahl left the band last year, a fact which I am sure contributed to the band nearly breaking up. Once again, like during the aftermath of  2008's Torn, Englund was tasked with filling the gaps. Long time keyboardist Rikard Zander was the only member left with any real history in the band, as bassist Johan Niemann had only performed on Glorious Collision. However, in a move which pleased the fans and revitalised the band at the same time, Englund managed to convince guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl to rejoin the band. Both had left the band in 2010 and fans often said that these members were sorely missed. Now, with the band once again complete - and almost back to their 'classic' line-up, the band's new album could finally be completed. Hymns for the Broken is the Evergrey album that fans have been wanting for years, and is sure to make them plenty of new fans along the way as well!

The album opens with the instrumental piece The Awakening that mixes sound effects of a busy world with distant, cold-sounding synths. It then morphs into a spoken word piece that sets the mood for the rest of the album, before the song bursts into the album's first single King of Errors. Ekdahl's marching snare drum work is the centre of this song's opening, but it is not long before a simple guitar riff comes in and Englund starts to sing. His full-bodied voice sounds excellent throughout this album and really draws you into his world. The chorus is really melodic and catchy, but it still maintains the sombre mood of the song. Zander's delicate piano mixes well with Englund and Danhage's guitars to create a dense, yet accessible sound. It is easily the simplest song on the album, and works well to ease you into the album. Danhage's guitar solo is stunning too, full of fluid phrases and emotionally-charged bends. A New Dawn follows and the sound is immediately heavier from the outset. Doomy, slow Black Sabbath-esque riffs mix well with passages that would not seem out of place on a modern Killswitch Engage record and make for a song that encompasses all that is great about metal. Symphonic choirs back up Englund on a few occasions during the song, and Zander's keyboards knit the whole thing together with melodic precision, especially when his piano dominates the latter part of the song. Despite the clunky title, Wake a Change is a really soulful piece that brings the best out of both Englund and Zander. It is piano-led, with the rest of the instruments taking a back seat, only coming in when necessary. It feels like a ballad, but the crunchy guitars stop the song from slowing the pace too much so early in the album. Danhage's tortured guitar solo mixed with Englund's wordless vocals bring the song to an excellent close. Archaic Rage follows on perfectly on from the previous song, but places emphasis more on the heavier end of the band's sound. Keyboards still play a leading part, but it is the doomy guitar-led passages and bass-heavy verses that stand out more here. The chorus soars in a rather muted sort of way, but this is perfect for the piece and only helps to highlight the faster sections of the song that appear mid-way through. Barricades is a much more openly heavy song, and boasts the very dry sounding guitars that are popular in metal at the moment. Englund's vocal melodies are very catchy throughout this song, and are a great contrast to the very djent-like guitar riffs. Zander's piano flourishes help to alleviate this feeling a little, and Englund and Danhage's duelling guitar leads bring class into the mix.

Black Undertow again opens like a ballad with simple piano arpeggios, but it soon grows into a full-band effort with an excellent chorus which seems Englund challenge his natural range with the occasional 'high' note. The slightly strained delivery here actually helps the song overall, as it really taps into the band's emotional streak, and this is fully cemented when Danhage's solo takes over and just washes over you perfectly. The Fire is another heavy piece, opening with a riff that sounds like something Mark Tremonti would write for his upcoming solo album. The verses are a little more subdued, with certain sections being handed over to a children's choir to sing, but the choruses are heavy with massive guitars and pumping bass. This is a simple piece that is over quite quickly, but helps to ramp up the metal again after some slightly more emotional songs. The album's title track is up next, and the soaring guitar leads that lock in well with the opening riff have a very 1980s metal vibe to them, but the piano that follows has something of power metal about it. The song is quite a chugger though, with big palm-muted guitar chords and staccato drumming. This is a guitarist's song however with plenty of excellent lead work and a fluid solo that claws back some of the limelight that the keyboards have hogged for the past couple of songs. Missing You is a proper ballad that, although it is short, it packs an emotional punch. Zander's piano is the only instrument on the song, and Englund's vocals sing perfectly over the top of it. Zander steals the show on this song though, with perfect piano lines, especially the sections where the unexpected higher notes come in. The album's final two songs are both mini epics that each clock in at over seven minutes long. The Grand Collapse is a heavy piece with crunching guitars and powerful drumming from Ekdahl. The song's main riff is very classically metal, and stabs of distant piano help to add hints of melody into the heavy darkness of this song. The spoken word from the album's intro also returns for a brief moment, before a really crazy guitar lead and some dense riffing just takes your head off. The heaviness continues throughout the rest of the song, and acts as a great contrast to The Aftermath which follows. To me, this song has a huge Pink Floyd vibe running through it, with effects-drenched slide guitar parts and wordless female vocal parts drifting through occasionally. There is also something of Anathema's recent work with the tone of the guitars and the way the song builds around repeating patterns. It is a perfect end to an album that has been pretty heavy throughout. Overall, this is a really excellent piece of work that is sure to put Evergrey firmly back on the map. I just hope that the band tour this heavily and promote it, as this album deserves to be heard by many!

The album was released on 29th September 2014 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for King of Errors.

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