EVERGREY – Escape Of The Phoenix (2021)
After 25 years, EVERGREY should be far better known. Simply put, they are one of the best melodic progressive metal acts out there.
Now the Swedes have returned with “Escape Of The Phoenix“, a set of tunes written and recorded as the world withdrew from normality. Befitting a lyricist as gifted as vocalist Tom Englund, it poses a series of questions, such as what happens when its titular phoenix, an eternal symbol of rebirth, prefers to remain dead?
Evergrey make music that is crisp, accomplished and often polished with a gleaming commercial edge. With luck, maybe Englund’s duet with Dream Theater front man James LaBrie on ‘The Beholder’ will introduce them to a few more newbies.
“Escape Of The Phoenix” is a terrific album, for sure one of the best this year so far…
“Escape of the Phoenix’‘ has some of the most forward keyboards Evergrey has seen in more than a decade, and a mix that respects the duality of their force and fragility. Keyboardist Rikard Zander is responsible for some of the most memorable melodies not just on the present record, but across Evergrey’s entire discography, and it’s a pleasant treat to see his contributions receive such a prominent role.
First single and opening track “Forever Outsider” gives listeners a taste of something both fiery and classic, the perfect lead into an album without perceptible weakness. Blossoming bass tones and a punchy chorus make “Forever Outsider” one of the clear standouts which will find its way into the live rotation, but it also teases at the heartfelt lyricism which has always given Evergrey a sincere creative advantage. It also has the edge of the unmistakable Evergrey solo, a signature imbued by the practiced hands of longtime guitarist Henrik Danhage.
A similar appeal follows in “Eternal Nocturnal,” and the quintessential delivery vehicle for an unforgettable chorus, this is one of the most thrilling tracks from the album and the best showcase of Danhage‘s impressive capabilities.
On “The Beholder”, Evergrey took a gamble on one of progressive music’s most hotly debated vocalists. This midpoint in the album features the vocal contributions of none other than Dream Theater’s James LaBrie, and integrates his distinct vocal style with absolutely seamless grace. Mid-paced and melodious, “The Beholder” is a dreamy and pensive track which begins with Englund’s usual charm. As the song progresses LaBrie’s voice rises to join with Englund’s, mixing together for a fantastic duet. The creative risks have paid dividends, culminating in a chilling final chorus which strikes straight to the listener’s heart. A unique and unexpected complement to Englund‘s established strengths, the addition of LaBrie to the album gives “Escape of the Phoenix” even greater dimension.
It would hardly be an Evergrey album without moving ballads, and “Escape of the Phoenix” delivers with the thoughtful grandeur of both “Stories” and “You From You.” Both bring momentum as they weave tales of hope and loss, tying into the overall progression of the album with expert placement in the tracklist. They offer a showcase of songwriting which is unafraid to have a particular passage linger or chorus repeat, as those extra moments are crucial for listeners to truly experience the depth “Escape of the Phoenix” has to offer.
As one of their many strengths, Evergrey excels at creating masterful album conclusions. “Leaden Saint” follows in the path of haunting heaviness, opening with a strong metallic edge before opening up to a more distant vocal approach.
The album finally meets its end with “Run,” which begins with an energetic kick and vibrant enthusiasm. That glimmer of hope which had first emerged in “Stories” comes through in full, exploding into a dazzling sunrise. Guitars and drums gallop in tandem, a radiant expression of what may be best described as pure bliss.
“Run” may conclude “Escape of the Phoenix,” but it carries with it a promise of new life.
Evergrey have found themselves again, finding a new ground without abandoning their identity. There is no question this is a band well into their career, carrying with them both the marks and wisdom of age. Englund’s voice has attained an ever-greater soulfulness, and Danhage’s characteristic playing style gives the album a strong dose of eclectic personality.
And in masterful control over keys, Zander continues to grow and evolve with a refreshing injection of synth which pushes “Escape of the Phoenix” firmly into the modern era. At places, “Escape of the Phoenix” sounds lie Erik Mårtensson’s Eclipse.
1. Forever Outsider
2. Where August Mourn
4. A Dandelion Cipher
5. The Beholder (feat. James LaBrie)
6. In the Absence of Sun
7. Eternal Nocturnal
8. Escape of the Phoenix
9. You from You
10. Leaden Saints
Tom S. Englund / vocals, guitars
Henrik Danhage / guitars
Rikard Zander / keyboards
Johan Niemann / bass
Jonas Ekdahl / drums
James LaBrie / vocals (5)