Album Reviews

Evergrey – The Storm Within

Sweden has been a breeding ground for many a metal band, and one that has risen to the surface, having established themselves over the last 20 years, is the group Evergrey.  This quintet from Gothenburg has been very steady with their studio album releases, and they are now upon their 10th release, entitled The Storm Within.  Fresh off the heels of the well-received Hymns for the Broken, the lineup has returned with another inspired vision to impart through their identifiably dark musical sound.  Featuring Tom S. Englund (vocals, guitars), Rikard Zander (keys, backing vocals), Johan Niemann (bass, backing vocals), Henrik Danhage (guitars, backing vocals), and Jonas Ekdahl (drums), they bring us eleven new songs that focus on an overall theme of dealing with loss in relationships, managing the inner struggle with that interpersonal void that was left, and figuring out how to continue life in spite of it.

The first track on the album is also the first single and music video (see below), entitled Distance.  Starting off with stark chord changes on the piano, the band later enters in abruptly with a chugging riff founded on the B octave.  Soon after the vocals enter with the first verse, leading into the more lilting chorus where the 6/8 time signature is more obvious and gives the song its heavy and deliberate tempo.  The second verse then commences, but this time a lengthier segue with an emphasis on the repetitive chugging on the chords eventually gives way back into the chorus.  Following the second chorus, dual guitar solos ensue during the instrumental interlude that melds into the continued low-chord chugging with the same piano chords from the introduction to the song in an interesting juxtaposition that still seems to work together in a more industrial kind of sense.  After this segment is a new channel with a different melody that again segues into a third chorus, where the addition of a youth choir is heard as background vocals but soon come to the forefront as the band drops out (save some foundational keys), providing a starkly beautiful and nearly a capella reiteration of the chorus as the song’s closing vocals, fading into the distance as the piano bookends the piece with the same introductory chords as a fitting balance.

Passing Through, the second track, picks up the pace quite a bit with a bass drop and synth to start it off with a groove-driven riff and a virtual dance-like beat incorporated from the keyboards gets one moving with this measured allegro tune.  Soon after, the first verse enters with only drums and synth to start under the vocals, and about halfway through the verse the guitars and bass later join.  After the following pre-chorus, a guitar-led brief instrumental segue appears, which lead into the very groovy and catchy chorus.  The second and third verses follow one after the other and move directly into a repeated chorus, a slightly different road map than in the front of the song.  Subsequently, the instrumental interlude in the middle of the song begins with guitar duet that soon focuses on guitar solos that embellish on the base chord changes that are the foundational riff to the piece.  After a brief modulation, the pre-chorus returns again, prepping for another double chorus that transitions into a retro synth-heavy ending with a reprise of the opening keyboard riff, eventually echoing off into the distance signaling the end of the song.  An interesting piece that communicates a theme of the perspective of life with the wisdom of ten years down the road along with acknowledging life’s comparative briefness, Passing Through is a mixed-style composition that has a relatively straightforward song structure that incorporates embellishments and layering that makes it work and is quite an appealing song, making it one of my favorites on the album.

The third song, Someday, starts with a glissed solitary note like a call in the distance, as the moderate martial chugging of the song soon begins with the main introductory riff supported by a smooth change of synth chords, abruptly shifting into a flurry of percussive syncopated rhythms and effects sounding like the increased frequency of a plane engine at takeoff.  The first verse then ensues with a driving, yet moderately-tempoed beat that leads into a more sustained bridge that carries into the more anthemic chorus with layered vocals and a lead countermelody in the keys.  A guitar solo transitions into a chugging second verse where the main beat seems to be paradoxically emphasized in their absence as the off-beats are systematically played as the focus instead.  The song then slides into a new transitional phrase with a bluesy guitar solo with bass support and a shift to a syncopated snare rolls and some vocal adlibs.  Another abrupt shift occurs as the chorus returns, featuring more improvised vocals at the end, with on-beat shouts and guitar features.  A continuing instrumental interlude begins with more of a lead with the keys with arpeggiated lines and previous countermelody.  Dual guitars continue the phrasing to introduce a pre-chorus leading into another chorus, but this time with a shift to nearly a capella harmonized vocals with percussion as the only accompaniment.  The return of the full band appears in the repeating of the main chorusline with more anthemic on-beat shouting.  The song ends with a blaring alarm, which if you carefully listen, is like a faint underlying metronome throughout the piece.  There are actually several things that happen within this song, but they flow together in a coherent pattern and one of the things that stands out to me about this piece is the steadiness and emphasis of the measured, moderate beat despite what else may be going on superfluously.

Astray, the fourth track, starts off with a moderately-tempoed yet heavy riff right out of the gate for the introduction, leading into the sixteen-bar first verse that has a notable segue into the chorus.  I love at this moment how the music comes to a near standstill as the lyrics “The winter…” are sung with only an ambient synth chord played underneath each time it enters into the chorus, then picks right back up again into the driving melodies.  There is an instrumental segue with a chugging riff from the guitars and bass, using rhythmic chords rather than a designated guitar solo.  The second verse then picks up again, with the same dropped shift going into the chorus.  Following this chorus is a second instrumental interlude featuring a bluesy and melancholy guitar solo, reminiscent of The Aftermath, where the band lays back for a lighter section to the song as the solo shines.  Next, a new channel appears with a different melody, which leads into some heavy riffage in another instrumental segue back into a more chorally-delivered chorus with more layering as well as some of the vocals sounding more at a distance as if in a choral setting.  Finalizing the vocal aspects of the song, the same kind of driving riffs delivered at the beginning and throughout the song also bring closure to the piece.

The fifth track is The Impossible, which shifts gears completely from the previous track, opening solely with piano with a short four-bar intro with the melody playing over a B quarter note drone before the vocals enter for the beginning verse with astronomically-inspired lyrical metaphors.  A ballad just over three minutes in length, making it the shortest track on the album, this song is a completely piano-driven song, with only the addition of strings in the latter half of the song.  The main piano theme is repeated throughout the whole song, while a couple of verses and choruses play over it with the theme itself serving as the segues between them.  It is in stark contrast to the other songs on the album, especially the ones that precede and follow it, which makes it stand out more as well as provides a sonic shift for the listener to keep the tracklisting balanced.

Following such a delicate track, My Allied Ocean is the polar opposite and is quite possibly the heaviest track on the album.  Starting off with a chuggingly fast tempo, this song gets the blood pumping in the nearly thirty-second introduction leading into the first verse.  The chorus lays back ever so slightly with some nonsyllabic vocals in the background that complement the lead vocals in a type of countermelody.  The first instrumental interlude then follows with a blistering guitar lick and then a re-intro into the second verse and the subsequent chorus.   A second instrumental interlude again features the same guitar lick, but then shifts in the middle section with a soundbyte played over rhythmic chords, leading into the third section of the interlude with a second guitar solo that is more melody-based.  The chorus then reprises and the instrumental outro continues the momentum with the same introductory riffs, supported by the continuing straight sixteenth and syncopated drum kicks that keep the song driving forward as the song finishes with a guitar travel down the scale to the song’s fine.

The seventh track is In Orbit, and features a special guest vocal appearance by Floor Jansen (Nightwish, ReVamp, former After Forever).  Starting off with an accented beginning over constant eighth arpeggios on the piano, the first verse begins with Tom on lead vocals, carrying over into the first chorus of lofty melodies.  Floor then appears, taking over the lead vocals in the second verse, and then duets with Tom into the second chorus.  Straight away a new channel follows the chorus with Tom remaining on lead vocals, with the introductory motif reintroduced again as the instrumental interlude that follows.  Gears shift halfway through, however, to a syncopated chug on the rhythm guitars, with soon give way to a couple of guitar solos while also changing key in the second half, giving a different feel to the song.  Changing back into the original key occurs as the third chorus appears, once again performed as a duet with Tom and Floor, repeated twice with a soaring ending, which slowly lingers into an ambiently ominous fade.  This is a moderately-tempoed song, yet has great energy, and Tom and Floor’s dual voices blend quite well together for another winning composition.

The Lonely Monarch picks up the pace a little with the tempo, but not necessarily in heaviness from the preceding track. Starting with a more repetitive chord change introduction driven more by the keys and drums, the first verse enters over syncopated guitars, becoming more soaring and plaintive in the second half.  There is a brief guitar segue into the chorus that maintains a more half-time feel, but picks up again as it segues into the second verse.  The guitarwork becomes more marcato during this verse with the syncopated rhythms for a nice differentiation from the first verse, and moves once again into the chorus.  The middle of the song showcases the instrumental interlude with a handoff of guitar solos, each of which have their own sound, sometimes dovetailing together nicely and sometimes showing completely different approaches from each other.  As the last solo finishes, everything drops to a single acoustic guitar playing the articulated chords into a reprise of the chorus, with the full band back in swing, with a continuation of the choral motif and vocal adlibbing until the abrupt closure to the song.  For me, this piece is definitely not a filler song that has some nice moments, but it is probably the least memorable of the tracklisting if I had to choose one from the selection.

The Paradox Of The Flame is a beautiful, melancholic, and poignant ballad on the album. Beginning with a plaintive piano introduction, it is joined by a string ensemble in the first verse as the vocals also enter.  Followed by an instrumental break before the next verse, there enters a surge of drums with solo violin, which eventually fades into a piano and cello accompaniment featuring a lamenting guitar solo. In the second verse is the first appearance of guest vocalist Carina Englund (Tom’s wife) with piano and cello only to accompany her, joined by Tom later in the verse as they continue the duet into the emotionally-delivered chorus supported by the same music played instrumentally in the break between the first and second verses.  Another musical gap with just a heartbeat of rhythm gives a break before the measured instrumental interlude with the full band, led by guitar and violin solos that carry out the remainder of the song.  The whole piece is at a dirge-like andante tempo, which seems to additionally deliver the gravity of the song’s message. (watch the music video below)

The tenth track, Disconnect, is another alternating track in musical style, following a ballad with another hard-hitting song. The longest track on the album at seven minutes long, it begins with a heavy, downtuned riff that hits you in the face, just as much as the plaintive vocal that begins the first verse, almost a wail, singing “Gone!  She’s gone!”  However, the song lets up into a half-time feel into the chorus with an angelic choral background as the song continues to wane in its intensity into a piano-only interlude that highlights the mournful musical motif.  This audible reprieve is only a brief thirty seconds, however, before the face-punching riffs and rhythms enter once again as a re-introduction into another new portion of the song.  This channel leads back into the chorus, which again takes a more laid-back approach, continuing into a choir-led second chorus that focuses on the layering of the melodic chord changes.  Following is a soulful guitar solo apropos to the sense of the song that segues into continued instrumentation that focuses on the chord changes in their own ways – including echoing guitars, articulated arpeggiations, and growling basslines – building up with the snare into a more fleshed out interpretation of the theme and leading into another guitar solo tradeoff/duet. The chorus reprises once more with the angelic and ethereal vocalizations (sung throughout by another guest appearance by Floor Jansen), taking the song out and winding down to its melancholy finale.

The title track is the last on the album.  The Storm Within is a slow and steady song with a melodic introduction led by the keys with syncopated rhythms contributed underneath by the guitars and emphasized by the rhythm section.  As the first verse begins, it becomes more ethereal, simmering down to keys only while the lead vocals have a echoing, distant quality overhead.  The pace picks up as the rest of the band enters to bridge the gap from the first verse into the following section, later on again shifting the various instrumental presence.  The following stanzas are very melodic, measured, and layered with pleasant vocal melodies and variations on the theme instrumentally all the way from a full band to articulated acoustic guitar and piano only.  This piece has a slightly different song structure than the other tracks where it flows together more as one long verse/chorus with the main instrumental portion occupying the last quarter of the song and playing it out, featuring a focus on the keys to give it an ambient finesse to finish out the song – and the album – in a soothing and mysterious finale.

Evergrey is back with another intense and impactful album.  They are masters of melancholy with meaning behind each and every one of their songs.  With an affinity for writing in minor keys, the music only serves to communicate the gravity of the messages behind the music.  All of the band members bring their A-game to the table, of course with frontman and founder Tom Englund handling lead vocal and guitar responsibilities as well as the bulk of the songwriting.  His partner in guitarist Henrik Danhage shows that they make quite a team and balance the lead and rhythm responsibilities equally and effectively together.  Johan Neimann and Jonas Ekdahl make a very solid rhythm section, especially keeping the driving force behind the more energetic songs and showing restraint where necessary and shining at other moments with more prominent lines, showy rhythms, or bombastic fills.  Last but not least, Rikard Zander is a masterful pianist who is like the crown jewel in the Evergrey crown, a part of the bigger whole that would be very obvious if he were missing as his parts are integral – and sometimes foundational – to each piece.

Overall, The Storm Within is a balanced album with a good length at nearly an hour long.  I found that the tracklisting order fit well with a good opener and closer to bookend the album, and in between the songs alternated between slow and energetic, soft and heavy, which showcased the variety more and kept it from being front- or end-heavy in the listening.  The female guest vocal appearances by Floor Jansen and Carina Englund were nice touches that brought a lot to their respective songs, and both were excellent duet partners with Tom with vocals that were strong yet blended well together.  If you are a fan of Hymns for the Broken, you’ll easily embrace The Storm Within, which shows the continuing progression and evolution of Evergrey as a whole over the years that I in particular have come to appreciate.  This is an album that I could heartily recommend to be added to one’s music collection, especially to fans of progressive or melodic metal.  For me, there were very few weaknesses in this album, which I would probably chalk up to personal preferences rather than any shortcomings in the execution of this album, and I would currently rank it among one of the albums of the year for me thus far.

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