Album review: EVERGREY – Escape Of The Phoenix

AFM Records [Release date 26.02.21]

Evergrey, led by the formidably talented writer/producer/guitarist/vocalist, Tom Englund, are now on their 12th album.

Escape Of The Phoenix once again revisits the band’s idea of adult contemporary metal. It’s a dark, sinewy sound, braced by ground shaking rhythms and devouring riffs, laced with memorable guitarwork and sturdy vocal melodies. It creates its own narrow musical boundaries and exploits every square metre to the full.

For Englund, a unique, informed worldview is the wellspring from which truly original music flows. On … Phoenix, his lyrical themes have moved on from the “Ocean” trilogy. However, the album generally confirms that we’re still living at the dark end of the street – a shadowy wasteland, populated by the disillusioned and disenfranchised.

The title track itself, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ denies us any thought of cleansing and renewal… when end of days comes, that’s it, the end. These thoughts and notions often turn inward. Song titles like ‘Leaden Sun’, ‘August Mourns’ and ‘In Absence of Sun’ are always going to give up a huge clue concerning content and mood. So far, no surprises.

But the music, oh, the music. ‘Forever Outsider’ and ‘You From You’ are full of progrock complexity and dissonant instrumental voices, topped off with towering hooks and vertiginous choruses.

‘Dandelion Cypher’ and ‘Eternal Nocturnal’ go barrelling down the road, steamrollering everything in their path, crashing and clanging, but always in control, creating gaps, spaces between the noise. The sharp edged words and the tortured vocals appear in these spaces like rockets escaping gravitational pull.

So we have a complex series of songs, frequently epic but never overblown. And as always – ‘Run’ and ‘Stories’ show this best – this extraordinary guitarist mainlines his spine tingling axe solos into the rarefied blood of classic melodic metal, or maybe it’s Prog Metal, or maybe Power Metal. One of those, or all of them.

James LaBrie guests on the booming, full blown Progmetal of ‘The Beholder’. It falters a little toward the end, dragging its feet to the finishing line. But it’s the only misstep on an album otherwise brimful of surefooted, grown up metal.

Worth noting that a major European tour is planned for later this year, including 8 UK dates (inc Glasgow Cathouse!). ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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