Back in 2014, Swedish progressive metal veterans, Evergrey began a conceptual trilogy starting with Hymns for the Broken, and continued with The Storm Within (2016) and ending in 2019 with my personal favorite in their long catalog, The Atlantic. The overall concept of the albums involved lead vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund’s dark journey of change and self-discovery and overcoming obstacles to a new level of understanding. It is here where the next step in the musical journey begins with the bands highly anticipated 12th album, appropriately titled Escape of the Phoenix, set for release February 26, 2021 on AFM Records.
The band, consisting of Englund, drummer Jonas Ekdahl, bassist Johan Niemann, keyboard player Rikard Zander, and guitarist Henrik Danhage, entered into the studio during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic with producer Jacob Hansen at the helm. The result is an aural and emotional assault of the senses with 11 tracks that embody everything that Evergrey fans have grown to love about the band. Brutally heavy riffs, intricate and powerful drumming, and emotive vocals with soaring choruses with introspective lyrics from one of the genre’s best.
It’s hard to believe that a new album is already on the way from Evergrey, as The Atlantic is still in heavy rotation on my playlist. Escape of the Phoenix takes over where The Atlantic left off, however there is a glimmer of hope and optimism in Englund’s lyrics and vocals now, where before there was only wrenching heartache. Don’t get me wrong, Evergrey aren’t singing about sunshine and rainbows. The bands trademark dark brooding melancholy is on full display throughout each track. With the previous album trilogy behind him, Englund’s powerful lyrics focus on personal relationships and his view of the world we are living in.
Regarding the lyrics, Englund stated:
you talk about the resurrection of the phoenix, that started a
mindgame for me,” Englund reveals. “What if the bird doesn’t want
to be resurrected? What if it doesn’t want to come back? That sort of
resembles things in life; sometimes you get
tired of standing up and being strong. I guess that was the main idea. It came to me after we’d finished writing the music.”
The album kicks off with the first single, Forever Outsider, a true headbanger with Ekdahl’s unrelenting pounding drums and a wall of heavy riffs courtesy of guitar duo Englund and Danhage. The chorus is soaring and melodic. A perfect way to start the album. Where August Mourn is another heavy track accented by Zander’s bright and atmospheric keyboards and a huge melodic chorus that promises to be a future crowd favorite.
Stories is a gorgeous and emotionally charged quasi-ballad that Tom sings the hell out of. The song is uplifting with a soaring chorus. Danhage’s lead guitar work here is exceptionally good with some tasty bluesy licks. Fans of the heavier, more metal side of Evergrey will absolutely love Dandelion Cipher. The riffs are brutal while the rhythm section of Ekdahl and Niemann provide the heavy and precise bottom end. As for the next song, The Beholder, the secret is out and the guest vocalist for this magnificent duet has been revealed as James LaBrie of Dream Theater. LaBrie’s warm vocals fit the song perfectly and blend extremely well with Tom’s to create one of the albums best moments.
In the Absence of Sun begins with a beautiful piano intro by Zander and Tom’s emotional vocal. The song has an epic atmospheric feel blended with intricate prog metal. The title track is heavy as hell and has an old school Evergrey feel to it, in the same tradition of In Search of Truth, much to the delight of longtime fans. You From You takes the listener on an emotional journey with a somber intro with Tom’s beautiful vocals and exceptional harmony vocals. The guitar solo is emotional and powerful, fitting the song perfectly. Leaden Saint brings the brutality back with a crushing riff and slamming drums. The guitar rhythms and Niemann’s bass bring the heaviness to another level. The albums final song, Run, is another great heavy track in the Evergrey tradition with Zander’s bright keyboard work cutting through the darkness and Tom’s melodic warm vocals piercing through.
In a year filled with so much disappointment and sadness with the loss of live music and our lives changed in profound and unexpected ways due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s comforting to know that 2021 brings a surefire album of the year contender, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes of 2020, Evergrey has brought hope and optimism for the coming year. Well done boys!