Evergrey – The Storm Within
Label: AFM Records
Release Date: September 9, 2016
Some music has an indescribable quality to it that makes it resonate with you on some deeper level. With some bands, it’s because of the lyrical content of their songs. With others, it’s the conviction of the delivery of their music. While a number of bands have these qualities, very few can manage to do it for you over and over again with each subsequent release. Evergrey has been that band for me for over a decade now. It seems to defy logic how every few years when a new Evergrey record drops, it somehow manages to connect with me and resonate on a very deep level regardless of where I am in my own life.
The band’s newest offering The Storm Within is no different. Picking up where 2014’s Hymns for the Broken left off in terms of both musical style and production but adding a new sonic dimension, The Storm Within sees the band continuing to build on the momentum of the return of Henrik Danhage (guitar) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). Jacob Hansen’s production style is once again very obvious, with the drums packing a serious punch and the guitars providing a massive wall of texture that still has a lot of definition and clarity to it. The vocals are a bit heavy-handed on the processing once again, and the keyboards are taking on more of an atmospheric role than ever before, with many reverb-drenched piano lines and distant choir textures providing a sonic landscape very fitting of the universe the band is trying to portray.
Lead single “Distance” kicks things off in a very forceful and plodding nature, delivering a solid chorus and killer solos from both Danhage and vocalist Tom S. Englund. Killer solos and choruses will be no stranger to the rest of the record, as I found myself being immediately drawn to both on most of the tracks. “Passing Through” stood out as a very early favorite for me and has continued to grow on me with repeat listens. The lyrics seem particularly poignant and the track moves at a nice pace with another killer dual-solo. It seems like it’s taken no time at all for England and Danhage to recapture the magic of their trade-off solos on the band’s classic records like Recreation Day. A few tracks down the line, “The Impossible” provides a very nice change of pace, with the track consisting of little more than a main vocal, piano lines courtesy of Rikard Zander, and some nice string ambience as well. The band going the extra mile to hire real strings for this album (for the first time since 2004’s The Inner Circle, I believe) really benefits the tracks on which they appear.
Changing the pace up considerably is “My Allied Ocean” which is the fastest and most aggressive track on the record. There’s a really killer lead break after the chorus that reminds me a lot of “The Great Deceiver” off the Recreation Day album. The second verse also boasts one of the very best riffs on the entire album, and there’s a spoken word sample as well so all in all there’s a lot for fans of classic Evergrey to love about this track.
Much like Hymns for the Broken, it seems as though the band’s best tracks wound up on the back half of the album. “In Orbit” is the album’s clear highlight in my opinion. Boasting guest vocals from current Nightwish singer Floor Jansen, the choruses feature some absolutely stellar harmonies that continue to build on themselves as the song progresses. This is just sonic ecstasy in a track, with the most memorable chorus on the album, a great odd-meter bridge, a killer breakdown, and an ending climax that makes the entire 5-and-a-half-minute ride worth taking over and over again. I can’t really say enough positive things about this track, and it actually surprises me that this was not a choice for a lead single between the catchiness and the cross-over appeal. Perhaps it was because the band doesn’t want to feel obligated to play it live due to the guest vocals.
“The Lonely Monarch” boasts another great chorus with some really nice lead playing. Much like the last track, it really moves along at a nice pace and also features some really poignant lyrics. “The Paradox of the Flame” is a duet between Tom S. Englund and his wife Carina Englund, which will please many Evergrey fans – myself included. Carina’s been contributing some form of vocals to almost every Evergrey record, but the songs where she sings lead alongside her husband tend to be really big “fireworks” moments for the band. This is no exception, with the return of the real strings adding an even more cinematic touch to a song already relatively grandiose in scale. This track almost feels like the conclusion of the record, but “Disconnect” throws the listener head-first into a whirlwind of riffs and aggressive confusion. With Floor Jansen returning to provide some atmospheric operatic vocals, this track’s dynamics really run the gamut from all-out sonic assault to very minimalist piano lines and combined with Tom’s vocal performance and lyrics make this one of the more emotionally compelling songs for the band in recent memory. All in all, a killer track that really gives each member of the band a chance to shine.
The album winds down with “The Storm” which is relatively mellow and introspective but still heavy. The vocals are by far the focal point here, with Tom delivering a very memorable performance. It’s almost bizarre to hear an Evergrey song that’s this much in a major key, but it really helps add some calm finality to the entire record. Much like “The Aftermath” from the prior album, this track helps to wind everything down and provide a nice bookend to the journey.
As I mentioned at the top of this review, there is a certain undefinable quality that makes Evergrey’s music continue to connect with me over and over again throughout my life, and The Storm Within is no exception. In addition to continuing to find new meaning to old lyrics on past albums, it always seems like no matter where I am emotionally, a new Evergrey album is going to resonate with me. I guess this “X factor” is one of the reasons why this band just seems to click so much for me and so many others who do love them, but leaves some people feeling underwhelmed. Evergrey has never been a band of “instant gratification”. If you’re looking for a quick fix of some poppy hooks or virtuosic playing, this band still isn’t your best bet. There’s bands who do “that” better, and that’s one of the reasons I feel has remained a relatively underground band. However, I’ve never seen a band who has the emotional relationship with their fans that this band does, and that’s not just because of the lyrical content of their music but the conviction of their performances. This has always been a band that says what it means, and means what it says. In the end, music that makes you feel and connect on a deeper level will always forge a stronger bond than instant gratification will. It’s the kind of bond that inspires fans the world over to continue supporting a band and even getting their artwork or symbol tattooed on them – myself included. In a musical landscape filled with disappointments, it’s a comfort to know that when a new Evergrey album rolls around, that spark will continue to get reignited, and the storm will hit you as strong as ever before.
Jeff Teets is the co-founder, guitarist and composer for Pennsylvania-based progressive power metal act, MindMaze. The band is currently in the studio completing its third full-length album, due out in early 2017. Knowing what a big fan Jeff is of Everygrey, he seemed like the perfect person to review The Storm Within. Metalholic reached out, and Jeff graciously agreed to share his thoughts and wisdom.