Monday, 8 March 2021

Evergrey - Escape of the Phoenix (2021)

Country: Sweden
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
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I don't think I've ever heard Evergrey before. They hail from Gothenburg, Sweden but play what they call progressive power metal rather than the expected melodic death metal. They formed back in 1995 and have kept busy ever since, this being their twelfth studio album. The biggest gap between albums is only three years and it's been just two since The Atlantic, which slipped by me in 2019. Their line-up has been stable since 2014 and is centred on Tom S. Englund, who sings and plays guitar.

Having now heard Escape of the Phoenix, I'd suggest that there's a lot more progressive metal in their sound than power metal. There's power here, but it's mostly overwhelmed by the progressive sound, a few exceptions notwithstanding. Many of these songs have an alternative rock feel too, but framed in a heavier context and with progressive flavour. I could imagine a regular alternative rock band taking many of these songs, simplifying them, removing the metal crunch but keeping the modern bass and releasing them as commercial covers.

What's more, the best songs here, like the piano-driven In the Absence of Sun, are clearly progressive metal and have very little power metal in them at all, perhaps just a little of that genre's grandeur. It falls to songs like Forever Outsider, which opens the album, the title track and Leaden Saints to bring that driving power metal sound into play. Much of that comes from drummer Jonas Ekdahl, who rolls on wonderfully. When he ups the tempo, everyone else has to follow suit and even the solos begin to feel a little more power metal.

To underline how this is primarily prog metal, James LaBrie from Dream Theater shows up to guest on one of these songs, The Beholder, and his contribution is not wildly different in style from Englund's on the earlier four. These are prog metal vocals, always with an eye on melody but not being as catchy as a softer melodic rock take on these songs would be. Neither screams nor soars, but both are clearly accomplished and both deliver some neat runs and holds.

I like this sound. Evergrey are clearly very comfortable with it and this album does run very smoothly indeed for almost an hour. It feels like they could have just carried on for a further hour or two in the same vein without the quality dipping at all. The only catch to that comfortable consistency is that it takes a while for songs to stand out from the others, even though this is really good material. I found that listening through the album as a whole was an enjoyable experience but that playing individual pieces in isolation was a better way to appreciate just how good they are.

To pick just one example, Stories sounded good every time I listened through the album, but it didn't sound like it was any better than Where August Mourn before it or A Dandelion Cipher after it. It was just good stuff. Taking a break, getting some lunch and coming back to play just that song showed me that it's better than just good. It's an excellent song that would have stood out on any radio show but merely doesn't here because all the songs around it are just as excellent. Successfully applying that logic to pretty much anything else on this album underlines how this is very worthy of an 8/10.

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