Dark prog masters Evergrey return with Escape Of The Phoenix, their twelfth album and first since their conceptual trilogy of albums that spanned the last seven years. Committing to three thematically linked albums is a hefty and limiting undertaking, and by 2019’s The Atlantic the concept was wearing thin, with Evergrey turning in a recording that was a step below the relatively lofty heights of Hymns For The Broken and The Storm Within. Can a fresh start result in stronger material?
It sure can. Freed of the shackles of the trilogy, Tom Englund and company storm (sorry about that) out of the gates with renewed vigor, as “Forever Outsider” sets a brisk pace with its pounding rhythm and thick riffs. Throw in a great guitar solo and Englund’s as-always stellar vocals, and the blood is pumping.
Producer Jacob Hansen feels that Evergrey have taken a more metallic and direct approach with Escape Of The Phoenix. This is true. Songs like “Where August Mourn” and “Eternal Nocturnal” both hit hard with a sense of urgency, much like the band in a live setting with more aggression than recent output. And once again, Englund and lead guitarist Henrik Danhage wow us with both tight riffing and perfectly arranged solos.
“A Dandelion Cipher” and “Leaden Saints” are yet two more tracks that punch above their weight class. They are littered with aggressive riffs but also shot through with captivating dynamics, giving bassist Johan Niemann and keyboard player Rikard Zander plenty of chances to show their chops. This is such a strong album that narrowing down the standout tracks is a difficult process, but these two rank right up there.
This wouldn’t be an Evergrey album without a few more melancholic numbers now, would it? The band does not disappoint, with “In the Absence of Sun,” a mournful yet powerful cut featuring a great piano melody, and “Stories,” which features a beautifully arranged guitar solo and plenty of Englund emotion. “You From You” rounds out the trio of epic-sounding mood pieces, ticking all the necessary boxes when it comes to sorrowful or pensive songs.
Escape Of The Phoenix is a long album, clocking in at nearly an hour without the CD bonus track. Despite this length, there’s really not a lot of fat to cut. Songs get to the point and don’t dwell on any themes for too long. The weakest song is “The Beholder,” a duet with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie, who brings nothing special to the table. And while Englund’s singing is stellar as usual, and the band plays great, Jonas Ekdahl’s drumming is powerful yet is lacking slightly when it comes to creative fills. It would be nice to hear him take a chance once in a while.
Nitpicks aside, Escape Of The Phoenix serves as a reset of sorts for Evergrey, allowing Englund to explore more lyrical themes than the last three albums did, and in turn seeming to allow the band to dig in and really hit hard. The sharp songwriting, aggressive production, and outstanding performances all add up to a winner of an album, one that is sure to please long-time fans and newcomers alike.
(released February 26, 2021 on AFM Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Evergrey – “Where August Mourns” Video