Thursday, 13 October 2016

Evergrey's 'The Storm Within' - Album Review

2014's Hymns for the Broken that really put Swedish progressive metal band Evergrey back on the map after three hard years. 2011's Glorious Collision was met with a fairly lukewarm reception, and the departure of two band members not too long after almost led the band to breaking up. Sole original member and bandleader Tom S. Englund was fairly open about these trials and tribulations during the run-up to Hymns for the Broken's release, and his hard work and determination paid off when that album turned out to be one of the band's best. I am no expert on Evergrey's back catalogue, but out of the few albums of theirs I have heard it is my favourite (I also reviewed the album here). The return of both guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl, both members with long-standing association with the band and held in high regard by the fans, certainly helped Hymns for the Broken become the success that is was, and all five band members turned in stellar performances to create a real 'team effort' of an album. Evergrey are known for their dense and emotionally-charged music, that eschews traditional progressive metal tropes for a darker, more concise sound. Evergrey have never been a band to write lots of lengthy epic pieces of music containing extended instrumental sections with flashy guitar/keyboard solos, and nor are their songs particularly complex. There are no bands out there that really sound like Evergrey however, and that makes them unique. Englund's vocal performances are what drives the band's sound, with the rest of the band playing for the song and to create the dark atmosphere that sits perfectly alongside Englund's deep, heart-wrenching vocals and lyrics. Rikard Zander's keyboards never really take the lead as would often be the case in progressive metal, but instead employ a great wall-of-sound approach of dry piano lines and dense synth layers to create the band's claustrophobic sound. Englund and Danhage's guitar riffs and melodies are usually much simpler too. The riffs are usually on the heavier side, which is a great contrast to the keyboard work, and the solos are shorter and more concise than other bands. All of these things are employed on the band's new album, The Storm Within, which is their tenth release. This is, unsurprisingly, quite a similar sounding album to Hymns for the Broken, but it employs a heavier approach throughout that makes it darker and more foreboding than it's predecessor which was extremely melodic for the band's standards. While I do not this The Storm Within is as good as the band's previous release, there is still a lot to like here and the dark atmosphere created is perfectly executed.

The album opens in a sombre manner, something which characterises the rest of the material here, with the stark piano lines of the first song Distance. A heavy, 'djenty' riff soon kicks in, and Englund croons his way through the lyrics in his own inimitable style. Zander's piano lines remain, and add depth to the song by cutting through the crunching guitar rhythms of the verse. The chorus is pretty memorable too, with a subtly melodic synth lead that is backed up by more keyboards and simple guitar chords. There is a short guitar solo section too, with Danhage taking the first half and Englund the second. This instrumental section soon morphs into an almost-industrial part with grinding guitars and cold synths. Passing Through picks up the pace, with prominent electronics in the song's intro that have a rather uncharacteristic upbeat vibe to them, but the song is as dark and moody as ever. Despite this, the song creates a good amount of energy with a modern-sounding, almost Gothenburg scene-type, guitar riff behind the verses; and the melodic choruses which again make liberal use of the electronics and synths. Their chiming sounds are a great contrast to the heavier guitars, and the soaring vocal melodies are very reminiscent of the band's previous album. Someday has quite a hectic opening, with Ekdahl's drums playing a strange, frenetic pattern as the two guitars riff over the top. This strange intro soon gives way to a more traditional song with an instantly memorable chorus and excellent lead guitar playing throughout. The verses have real crunch as the two guitars double up with some heavy power chords, before the piano dominates the choruses with ringing notes that are a great foil for Englund's voice. There is a instrumental section part-way through too that is one of the few places where Johan Niemann's bass playing stands out. He is usually quite buried in the mix, so it is good to hear him here. Astray starts with one of the album's best riffs, and it lays down a solid groove from the off and never really lets this up throughout. The big, chunky riff of the intro gives way to a subtler lead line, but it carries the same groove and ensures the energy is present throughout the song. Short ambient instrumental sections break up the riffing, but the groove always re-establishes itself right away when the guitars and drums kick back in. Danhage's solo in the song drips with emotion too, and ends up sounding like a metal version of David Gilmour, which is certainly no bad thing! After four heavier songs, The Impossible comes along at the right time to provide a brief change of pace. It is a beautiful piano ballad, that definitely has something of modern Anathema about it, and it shows another side to Englund's voice. Zander is the star of this song though, with some excellent classically-trained playing that has a really deep rumble to it.

In contrast, My Allied Ocean is heavy! It is probably the heaviest I have ever heard the band play. and the opening riff hits you like a steamroller and sounds like something that should be on an At the Gates album! It works well however, and the song is one of my favourites on the album. There are plenty of great shredding lead guitar sections, and Ekdahl gets to cut loose a little with his drumming, something which does not happen too often. The chorus is great too, with strong vocal melodies from Englund and some subtle female wordless backing vocals that give it a slight ethereal vibe. In Orbit sees the first of two guest vocal spots on the album, as Floor Jansen (After Forever; ReVamp; Nightwish) duets with Englund on the song to good effect. She does not unleash her full operative power, but uses the grittier end of her vocals to create a great contrast to Englund's mournful croon. Niemann stands out again here, with a great bassline in the verse which is the dominant instrument. In general though, this song has quite a different feel to the rest of the album and reminds me a little of Symphony X's latest album Underworld (and particularly the song Without You). It is still a great song though, and hearing Englund and Jansen sing together is pretty special. She has to be one of the most diverse vocalists in metal at the moment, and she makes this song what it is. The Lonely Monarch has an extremely catchy intro with big piano melodies that meld perfectly with the heavy guitars. The song's main riff is also memorable and really drives the verses with a slight bounce. The song makes lots of changes as it moves along, with sudden blasts of double bass drumming taking over to good effect, and a slower chorus that is heavy on the keyboard layers. The Paradox of the Flame is another piano-led ballad, and features the second guest vocalist on the album. Carina Englund, wife of Tom, who is a regular contributor to the band's albums returns here after lacking a real staring role on Hymns for the Broken. It is another great ballad, with a fantastic string arrangement throughout that really adds to the emotional impact of the song. Slide guitar sections are also included which are the icing on the cake. Disconnect is heavier, and also features Jansen's vocals but in a more background role this time. Her operatic skills are put to the test during the choruses, with her wordless efforts providing a great backing for Englund. Intense riffing sections are paired up with delicate piano breaks to give the song great feelings of light and shade, and contains little bits of everything that makes Evergrey sound the way they do. The album comes to an end with the slower title track, which certainly has a heavier, doomy feel to most of what has come before. Keyboards also play a big part in the song's sound, with subtle lead lines throughout and plenty of atmosphere. It is another good song, and ensures the album ends on a high with a song that twists and turns and has a true progressive feel. Overall, The Storm Within is another strong release from the veteran Swedish metal band, and one that shows their semi-rebirth with Hymns for the Broken was not a fluke. Anyone who likes moody metal music with hints of prog and goth should check this out.

The album was released of 9th September 2016 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Distance.

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