Evergrey – Theories of Emptiness Review

With Steel giving up the reins of Evergrey, and Huck swimming with the fishies, I take up the horsewhip to review this year’s Theories of Emptiness. After coming off a pretty impressive release with 2022’s A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), what do these Swedish dark, melodic metal giants have in store for their fourteenth full-length record? While many metalheads consider Evergrey’s tried and true sound to be going stale as of late, A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) had some surprising new tidbits to their songwriting style. It includes gigantic orchestrations and harsh vocals (“Midwinter Calls”), fan-led chantings (“Save Me”), and a true album epic (“Heartless”) that does more than it should for its mere five-minute runtime. But, will the band continue to climb these heights of new inspiration, or revert to the standard fare that made up albums like Monday Morning Apocalypse and Glorious Collision?

OK, that was harsh because I enjoy Monday Morning Apocalypse. But, that period in their career saw them forcing the sad boi on their fans like inedible water wienies down a baby’s throat. Yet, they turned everything around when key members Henrik Danhage and Jonas Ekdahl returned for 2014’s Hymns for the Broken. From there, the band has been reinvigorated, even sharing some songwriting duties and exploring new approaches to their chorus-focused song approach. As with many bands, they might never recreate earlier epics like In Search of Truth and Recreation Day, but this Swedish quintet forges ahead without looking back. While Evergrey isn’t for everyone, Evergrey’s depressing lyrics and somber approach to progressive “power” metal are unique. And, I’ll never pass up a chance to review a new album.1

With the opener, it’s clear that Theories of Emptiness isn’t as heavy as its predecessor. But, that’s ok! It still has the band’s classic heaviness in “Falling from the Sun,” “We Are the North,” and “One Heart.” The first sets the mood nicely with a standard stop-start chugging riff, warm chorus, and acceptable song length. But things really get heavy with “We Are the North.” Incorporating some haunting key work and snarling grunts to add to the mood, the crushing guitars press this thing to its limits until it sheds its weight and soars into a gorgeous, hopeless chorus that only Evergrey can pull off. The follow-up track, “One Heart,” is heavy in a different way—opening with a hopping groove and tasteful guitar leads. Then, it sets into a killer groove, emphasized by the perfectly arranged vocal performance. While the verses flow and ebb beautifully, their purpose is to build to the biggest and most addictive chorus on the record. “One Heart” is the album’s most adventurous song and it pays off.

Other highlights include “Say” and “Cold Dreams.” The first took me some time to appreciate because of its weird key work and radio-friendly attitude. But, it’s not like everything the band produces has to put you into crippling therapy sessions. The accessible approach to the songwriting lends well to the catchy, hooking chorus and, after the midpoint, the song transitions to some progressive, oddly-timed riffage that reels it back into Evergrey territories. “Cold Dreams” is a unique piece for an Evergrey record because it has a guest vocalist that doesn’t involve Tom Englund’s wife. Together, Englund and Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse lend their voices to this song, delivering dueting verses and choruses that alternate in calmness and aggressiveness along the track’s near seven-minute runtime. Toss in some emotional builds and female vocals supplied by Englund’s daughter and you’ll find one of the more epic pieces on the album.

Theories of Emptiness doesn’t quite reach the heights of A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) but it includes many of the same flavorings as its predecessor, without the same aggression and heaviness. That’s obvious when you hit “Ghost of My Herom” which stands as one of the most boring ballads the band has ever written. Wow, that hurt to say. And while The Inner Circle’s instrumental closer, “When the Walls Go Down,” works well with its spoken-word segments and crushing builds, “A Theory of Emptiness” is a pointless, two-minute conclusion that doesn’t add much value to the album outside its message. Theories of Emptiness is another solid outing by the band, but it’s not quite up to the sad boi status of other outstanding Evergrey records.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: Streamy | Format Reviewed: Streaminess
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: evergrey.bandcamp.com | evergrey.net | facebook.com/evergrey
Releases Worldwide: June 7th, 2024

Show 1 footnote

  1. Even if it’s a stream…
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