Evergrey – Escape of the Phoenix Review

2021 will see the release of a wealth of albums written and recorded during the COVID pandemic. This phenomenon will likely impact records in a myriad of ways. Some will directly reflect the times in concept, lyrics or atmosphere. Others may benefit from bands having additional time stuck in lockdown together to hone their compositions. In the case of Evergrey‘s 12th album Escape of the Phoenix, the latter appears to be the case. With the members forced into extended lockdown with fewer outside distractions and more time to focus on writing and arranging, the band believes the end result was a stronger, more complete album. Based on my time with Escape, I’m inclined to agree. After the somewhat somnambulant The Atlantic, it felt like Evergrey were spinning their wheels in the mud of the mope-core they’ve been pushing for years. While Escape is hardly a bold shift in direction, it’s a more vital and lively collection of tunes possessing bigger hooks.

If you’ve been paying attention to Evergrey since 2014 or so, what you’ll hear on Escape is exactly what you’d expect – a hybrid of Gothic and prog metal designed to kick you in the unhappy bone. This the band does with greater or lesser success depending on the track. The overall heaviness factor is trending upward this time though, which makes a difference. Opener “Forever Outsider” is plenty catchy with a memorable chorus, and the heavy, downtuned guitars give it enough punch to show that the boys mean business. “Where August Mourns” is one of the pre-release singles and embodies the Evergrey sound in a nutshell. Tom Englund’s emotional, mega-sadboi singing is propped up by beefy riffing that never quite crowds out the band’s Gothic underpinnings. It’s a memorable song and one of the best on offer. Also notable is “A Dandelion Cipher” with its direct, almost alt-rock approach and hooky payoff chorus.

“Eternal Nocturnal,” another pre-release single, is quite poppy but works due to Englund’s ability to elevate material with emotive crooning.1 He does this especially well on the downcast “In Absence of Sun,” which is a “get out the hanky” kind of tune designed to harsh your sunny disposition. While the bulk of the songs here are good, few reach that next level and scream for inclusion on the Grand Playlist ov Evergrey. The album is a bit frontloaded and the final third falls off slightly quality-wise, with cuts like “You from You,” and especially closer “Run” feeling disposable. And at just shy of an hour there’s definitely room to trim the album by a song of two. The appearance by James LaBrie of Dream Theater fame on “The Beholder” is rather anti-climatic since he can barely be heard with Englund dominating the song. While the album is stronger than its predecessor, it still feels like the band is locked in a prison of comfort, content to recycle ideas and moods in ever more familiar patterns. I’ve been getting an increasingly frustrating feeling of “been there, heard that” from these cats for a while now, and that feeling is still present despite the better writing this time out.

As with every Evergrey platter, Tom Englund is the moon, the sun, and the stars. He’s one of the most distinctive vocalists in the metal world and has a near mystical ability to keep the listener engaged even on songs that don’t have much going for them besides him. Every Evergrey platter would drop precipitously ratings-wise were he to be Thanos snapped out of existence. He performs his usual vocal sorcery all over Escape of the Phoenix, elevating what would be fairly mediocre songs in the hands of a lesser frontman. Even his talent can’t save lesser cuts like “Run” from feeling like filler, but he makes it a close call at least. The guitar-work from Englund and Henrik Danhage is good and sometimes great, with emotive, poignant melodies seeping from the ether at key moments, offset by heavy, djenty riffing. They rely a bit too much on simple riff n’ chug patterns at times, but this is their template and they show no sign of deviating.

It’s good to hear Evergrey elevate their game after the slightly uninspiring sounds of The Atlantic. Escape of the Phoenix won’t end up anywhere near early albums like Recreation Day in my general rotation, but it’s a solid, enjoyable example of their brand and sure to please most of their followers. Evergrey is A-OK, but I want something a bit more from them at this point.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM
Website: facebook.com/evergrey
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. The video however is like a really bad designer perfume commercial.
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