This time I just wasn’t ready for the bi-annual dose of inner conflict, depressive introspection and damaged psyches that come with every Evergrey album. Personal issues have conspired to keep me away from reviewing as much as I’d like and I’ll admit to feeling a bit beaten down of late. That’s either the worst time to spin an Evergrey release or the best depending on the level of masochism present in your twisted black heart. I personally would have preferred a brainless dose of barbarian metal or some mega-cheesy power metal all about cosmic unicorn husbandry, but Wotan had other plans. Instead I’ve been keeping time with The Storm Within, the latest entry in the ledger of suffering by these eternally angst-ridden Swedes. This release is timed to coincide with their 20th anniversary as a band and I can (un)happily report it’s everything you’d expect from Evergrey with the same strong song writing, fetishistic commitment to sadboy melancholy and soul wrenching emotional excess. It’s also a conceptual piece about losing a loved one, grieving and finding the strength to go on, though to be honest, I assumed all their albums were. To their credit it’s also their strongest, most consistent outing in years and it showcases a band experiencing their creative prime, even this late in their career.
Opener “Distance” demonstrates all their strengths in one package. On its face it’s a stark, simplistic song fusing Tom Englund’s distinctively emotional vocals with heavy, somewhat metalcore-ish, vaguely Godsmack-y riffs, then dropping them away to let Englund carry a poignant, stark chorus that shouldn’t stick as deeply as it does. This is the kind of song they’ve been writing forever but when they nail it, you’ve no choice but to let the sadness soak in, leaving you with naught but ashes in your trembling hands. I can’t think of another band capable of conveying hurt as effectively as Evergrey can and I’m sure someone/everyone in the band needs a big hug and a large fruit smoothie spiked with lithium. “Lighter” fare like “Passing Through” is more energetic but still feels like a slick, poppy version of something Woods of Ypres would’ve written during David Gold’s twilight days.
“The Impossible” is this album’s “Waking Up Blind,” and an awesomely downtrodden ode to pain, grief and loss that should be taken in small doses despite its intrinsic beauty. The faint traces of Monster Magnet are likely an unintentional byproduct but interesting nonetheless. Punchy cuts like “My Allied Ocean” and “Disconnect” dial up the heaviness and aggression but the vocals firmly anchor them in territory familiar to psychiatrists and therapists. Each song is like a distorted window into a broken soul and though the material is catchy and at times even anthemic, it never feels the least bit bright or joyous. “The Paradox of the Flame” sees Carina Englund (Tom’s wife) return for another somber duet much like “For Every Tear That Falls,” and though the song isn’t quite of that caliber, it’s fine in its own right and naturally, a real killjoy.
There isn’t a weak track, and though it’s long at 58 minutes, the band doesn’t overstay their welcome, which is pretty amazing considering the uniformly depressive themes. Sound-wise, things are full and clear. The bass is audible throughout, the guitars have suitable heft and Englund’s vocals sit right where they should – at the center of the tear parade.
Speaking of Englund, few bands are as dependent on the vocals of their frontman. While the music itself is solid, little of it would stick if it wasn’t sugar-coated with such top-notch vocals. The riffs in-particular are often simple, straight-forward core-like chugs, and though they work in the context of the songs, they don’t often make an impression on their own. That said, I do enjoy the minimalist melodic touches Englund and Henrik Danhage thread through the songs. Englund is one of the best vocalists in metal and he’s developed a unique style for himself. The way he conveys pain and suffering is borderline genius and his knack for vocal placement is impressive. Evergrey have proven themselves consistently solid song writers over the years and they seem to be on a creative rise. Considering they were on the verge of breaking up a few years ago, that’s pretty remarkable.
I’m a fan of the band and enjoyed every album to some degree. I wasn’t in the right place to appreciate this and I certainly didn’t want to drill down into the pathos, but The Storm Within won me over anyway. It’s better than 2014s Hymns for the Broken, and may be their strongest since The Inner Circle. If you want to feel the feels, you came to the right place. Surrender your smile at the door.