Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) Review

It is the circle of life. The Lord1 taketh and the Lord2 giveth back. Not seven weeks ago I was slated to review the new Satan album, when it was ripped from my hands by our Ungracious Leader. I bit my tongue as long as I could, waiting for the right moment for revenge, and that moment has come! For here I am, coming out of nowhere to steal this new Evergrey album from his hairy mitts. Weeks later I’m still not sure this was a fair trade, but you are stuck with my take on A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)3, the grizzled Gothenburg outfit’s Napalm debut, thirteenth studio album overall, and third release in four years. Can any band keep the quality up at this torrid pace?

What is immediately apparent on A Heartless Portrait4 is the increased aggressiveness of the music. “Save Us” opens with an aggressive riff and displays Evergrey at their most energetic. The big gang chants (created from hundreds of fan voices) give this song a very epic feel. “Midwinter Calls” also makes use of the fans’ voices, and while more in line with typical sad Evergrey fare is still plenty heavy. “Blindfolded” is an all-out technical feast, the most progressive cut on the album, and a rare occasion where Tom Englund’s voice isn’t the driving force of the material. Instead we are granted a writhing riff and fantastic duelling guitar/keyboard solos. “Heartless” is an epic Evergrey song, with a towering introduction, strong verses, sweeping choruses, another superb guitar solo, and an ominous keyboard fadeout.

Energy, pace, and aggression may be unusual highlights on A Heartless Portrait, and they are the most obvious changes. Even the more morose material has a greater sense of urgency to it than usual. “Call Out the Dark” and “Ominous” both make use of electronic flourishes and effects to bolster Englund’s emotional pleas. Closing the album with the ballad “Wildfires” is a small misstep. The song is touching, with a sensitive vocal performance, but anticlimactic after nine punchy cuts. It belongs in the middle of the album as a change of pace rather than at the end.

Any flaws in A Heartless Portrait are purely personal in nature. Jonas Ekdahl is a busy drummer; more groove and less kick drum in certain situations would be desirable. And the walls of sound can be a bit too “big” due to the layers of reverb and delay added onto everything. Of course, listening to a stream rather than a high quality download could impact overall audio quality. And much like my good friend Steel thinks, the songs that are examples of the morose Evergrey, such as “The Great Unwashed,” can be unremarkable without Englund’s excellent vocals. Again, these are personal quibbles; the song arrangements and performances are outstanding, and when taken in its entirety A Heartless Portrait is the band’s most engaging album since The Storm Within.

Evergrey continue to be the leaders in sadboi progressive metal, and A Heartless Portrait is a quality addition to their canon. The band has tapped into additional aggressiveness that has always come through on stage but rarely on record, and of course Englund sounds fantastic. With some bulked-up songs comes a bit more, I don’t know – vitality? Urgency? – in the delivery, resulting in a stronger release than last year’s Escape of the Phoenix5. A Heartless Portrait is fun to play, and fun to play loud. I’m sure it will be a couple more years before the next release, as bands crank up the touring machine again, but this bodes well for the quality of future albums.6

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Napalm Records
Website: facebook.com/Evergrey
Releases Worldwide: May 20th, 2022

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Steel Druhm.
  2. Steel Druhm.
  3. Go ahead and add a parenthetical bit to your album title, bands, that’s not pretentious at all.
  4. I am not going to do the full title, sorry team.
  5. Which I actually enjoyed a tad more than Steel did.
  6. You can have those too, you grabby bastard. – Steel
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