Tom S. Englund eases back into his chair, reflecting on a particularly 'wild' launch weekend for Evergrey's 13th studio album A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), the band's first since signing with Napalm Records in 2021.
It's been a productive pandemic for Englund, who, alongside numerous Evergrey records and consistent work alongside side-projects Redemption and Silent Skies, has been active as a composer for hire, notably locking down credits with video-game studio Saber Interactive.
Metal Injection sat down with the Swedish metaller for a deep dive into Evergrey's recent run of hard hitting and always brooding material, 25 years and counting of relentless band output, his death metal roots in Gothenburg, composing for Evil Dead: The Game and much more!
Going through your career and certainly the pandemic era, the output has been pretty staggering. There's Evergrey, Redemption, Silent Skies record and that's not even touching your work scoring for Saber Interactive. It's nonstop. There's no such thing as pandemic downtime for you.
That was sort of the opposite for me. I felt like, hey thanks! At least I got time now, you know? I felt I had an obligation and we had an obligation, all of these bands that I'm in to see what happens if we make use of the time that we got for free now.
I mean, we're fortunate enough to have survived economically during this time. So I understand that it has been a struggle for many other people. But for us we had this scheduled, the first album anyway. We just kept on going while we were in this stream of inspiration and creativity that just kept on flowing by doing exactly that.
With Evergrey, if you guys hadn't made the switch to Napalm Records, do you think there would have been a follow up album to Escape Of The Phoenix quite so quickly? You had The Atlantic in 2019 Escape Of The Phoenix in 2021, and now obviously the A Heartless Portrait. Do you think that was expedited because you wanted to make a strong first impression with the label?
Yeah. I mean, it made sense, right? It made sense for us, because Escape Of The Phoenix was also our biggest commercial success thus far. And for us to have a follow-up to that album with another strong album that I believed that we could do.That was the plan.
You know, bring in a new badass album into a new label and give them, the team at the label, a belief more than they already had that we will bring the goods. But we weren't certain. We tried for six weeks, went back to our writing, the five of us. And then when we met six weeks later we had like 50 song ideas. So then we were like okay, this is probably going to work out, right?
We're now a few weeks removed from the record's release. What's the feedback so far? 25-plus years of Evergrey and still going strong.
I mean, incredibly grateful. That's the first word that comes to mind. I mean, the thing is, as I said, I think I would have felt somewhat bitter and sad doing albums because of the need to do them and not being contemporary. And as I said, we're not selling millions of albums, but we're at our peak right now. So that's amazing to me.
This is our 13th album and going into that knowing that our fan-base is still growing is something that I think is pretty unique. I'm not saying it's totally unique, but it also gives us the fuel to keep on going. I'm on the next album writing stuff now.
It's always weird to be talking about an album cycle since, particularly with a songwriter like yourself and a band like Evergrey, and especially in COVID times where things may get backlogged, you're already multi-projects ahead by the time you're promoting this latest record.
Sure. But I'm feeling it now, to be honest. I mean the thing with this is that I've been working at such a speed, if you will. But on the other hand every other person goes to work eight hours per day, right? So why should we have some sort of relaxing reward for not having to go to work? It's like bullshit to me.
People talk about waiting for inspiration and whatnot. Whatever man. For me inspiration comes when you bring in your tools and put them in your hands. That's when it starts. I don't know, I felt we had an obligation to do as much as possible with the time that we had. And I feel that I have certainly done that.
I also participated on at least 25 fan projects, like different songs or stuff like that. But I feel blessed making music with people that enjoy having me in it and involved in it. Also it's a blessing for me to step into other people's creative worlds and that enhances my skills as a musician for sure, no matter if it's a 14-year-old kid from Australia or if it's a well-known band or working with James LaBrie from Dream Theater or whatever. All of these things bring in different things that are equally rewarding to me.
The live performance, the records and the recording process are somewhat intertwined with one feeding the other. I would imagine you could face creative burnout when you have three years of writing and recording without the reprieve of getting back on the road. I guess now that you're able to go back and perform with the various projects that you have, that it allows that break in between the putting your head down and finding that you need to be creative.
Yeah, and I mean, it's also scary in a sense because now we're going to go out and promote and play shows for two albums, I guess. Honestly, I mean, yes, we've just done a few shows and you find your way back to it very quickly, but at the same time will I then lose the creativity that I sort of gained now?
Every time I feel myself going back to a creative circle of writing then it takes a while. It takes months for me to sort of wake that spirit of inspiration and creativity after coming home from a tour. But I mean, I love both things. I would love to have like twice the amount of time for each and every album. If I could have this amount of time for every album that I've had now then I would be happy as a pig in shit [laughs].
It's incredible that you still have that fire for the creative process, given that Evergrey celebrated 25 years in 2020. You guys could roll out the greatest hits set-list every night, and the fact that you're still inspired to churn out albums is a service to the fans, but also a testament to the fact that you guys haven't come close to phoning it in.
No, not at all. Now putting together the set-lists for the upcoming tour here in Europe, it's going to be mainly based on the two to three last albums. Our fan base really took off from the Hymns for the Broken album, which is five albums back, right? Which is weird to me because that album still feels new to me.
So for us we need to sort of pay respect to the new people coming in, and the problem that we don't have is that our old fans haven't left us. They also love the new stuff. That's the biggest reward for us that we can still play whatever we want from the new stuff and everybody will be happy. But if we started playing old stuff, like let's play the first three albums, the new people will wonder what the hell we were doing, right?
I read an interview where you talked about how in the recent years of your songwriting, particularly in these last couple of records, energy and strength has kind of replaced despair and sadness. When you think about writing these records as a young man back in the late 90s and early 2000s, there's a lot of catharsis that can come from bringing out that inner turmoil. But now you've done this for so long that you can find new ways to go about channeling that inspiration without putting yourself in a pit of despair.
Yeah, thank you. I think I said that I still write about the same subjects, right? And it's still coming from the same source, but from a perspective of self-esteem, knowing that all of these things that sort of put me down when I was younger, those things are the things that made me who I am today.
And today I am in a great place and I feel great about myself and my self-confidence and self-worth and all of those things that sort of are the keystones of a healthy person, I guess. But the cathartic part of writing lyrics is a lifetime ongoing thing for me, I think. It's what I need to do to sort of offload myself.
Looking at 25 plus years of Evergrey, does the fact that you are able to pivot to Redemption or Silent Skies or collaborate with other artists help in terms of keeping that creative fire alive?
They all feed each other, right? So whatever I get from Redemption that feeds into Evergrey and Evergrey feeds into Silent Skies, which is another main project of mine. Then I discovered that how I use my voice, for instance, in Silent Skies for some songs, that's something that I've integrated now in Evergrey. It's just awesome.
And that's what I meant before also with writing with other people, all of my fan vocals. I do vocals for fan songs, and all of those projects also help me to discover new things because then I'm not that creative in terms of writing that much stuff usually. They tell me what they want me to sing and I sing that, which is as much power and inspiration as I can have. So that leads me to sort of find new things and new aspects of my voice, for instance.
That leads me into your work scoring different projects and video games. That must be a different kind of feeling and challenge where someone presents you this world and you have to create the sound and backdrop to that.
Very much so. And it does take, I think, particular types of people to do it because we don't even get to see the games. If we're lucky, we get to see a trailer. We did a trailer for the game Evil Dead that just came out. That's how we got that job, actually. Me and Vikram Shankar from Silent Skies, my partner there, we did trailer music here in Sweden overnight and sent it in to them and they were like, 'fuck, did you do this overnight?' And we said yes!
But we have a musical director telling us and he's so vivid with his language. If I'm a motor mouth, he's like fucking amazing at explaining what it is he needs for us. Usually he can explain for two hours what it is he needs for a certain part of the game. And we don't even have a picture or a backdrop or anything of it. And then we just go to work, which is also great because then you get to be creative within limits, right? 'This is what we need. I don't want it to go too far this way. I don't want it to sound too much like that. Don't think in this way, I want you to be thinking like this,' which is awesome. It's a privilege.
I've always thought that certain types of games, particularly something like an Evil Dead with heavier and darker inspirations, metal can bleed into those worlds so well.
Yeah. And I think there's an understanding. If you play pop music, there's boundaries in pop, right? It needs to be this sort of amount of minutes and blah blah. In that way, metal is much more free. And that's what helps create music for video games because, outside of what I just told you about these rules that we have within the game, our creativity, I think it really helps to come from a metal background. There’s a lot of guitars in it as well. And we did a game called Dakar Rally, which is coming out soon, which is basically just guitars and heavy drums.
Talking Evil Dead, do you consider yourself a horror fan?
I was when I was younger. Very much so. And I mean, we also got to take part of the old scoring music from the old composer for this game to get a grasp of what was going on. This is so weird also being a metal fan, but there was this big ass rap artist [Method Man] who did the soundtrack for Evil Dead. So he's rapping to our backgrounds. I mean, we don't get paid for it or anything. What's his name? I can't remember what his name is, but he's super, super big. And they were recording videos at these theme parks where they built up Evil Dead stuff. And I was like, 'I want to come!'
Could you see yourself wanting to branch out into scoring more games, film or television? Is that somewhere you're feeling really comfortable at this stage of your career?
Yeah, I mean, we're doing as much as we can with Saber right now. Now it's like this sort of downtime for that. I think that speeds up again during the fall when everything speeds up again, which is just horrible in a sense, but yeah, very much so. We were looking into doing TV series stuff and a bunch of things on the agenda.
I'm sure you've been asked a million times about coming up in Gothenburg and the melodic death metal scene. We look at these pivotal areas in the world as kind of touchstones of metal. Do you feel like there was really an incredible education to have been learned from coming up there in the time you did? Or maybe we look at it with rose colored glasses now because of what came from there.
I mean, the most striking thing is that you were being sort of musically brought up in an environment where you saw other people making it. And by making it I'm talking about putting yourself in a van and driving nine hours to play in Poland. That was making it.
And then of course we had this small concert hall. Not even a hall, like a small, tiny ass stage where all of us sort of grew up playing together. It was At The Gates, Grotesque, Dark Tranquility, In Flames, Ceremonial Oath, HammerFall, all of these people that were sort of being brought up, being in the same sort of age and coming to life together in a sense. Even though Evergrey was not a part of that death metal scene, I came from another death metal band that was. That's really how Evergrey was rooted as well.
Again, when HammerFall released their first album that's when sort of the world woke up to heavy metal again, right? It had been a pause and everything went over to Seattle for a while and everything cool happened there, you know? But then they released this album and I think the world had a lot to thank HammerFall for in terms of heavy metal.
In terms of your various projects, how are you looking ahead to the future? I'd imagine there has to be a lot of delegating and scheduling for touring, composing and studio time. You really need to have your shit together.
Yeah, and that's something you get better with with age, I guess. If I would have done this that I'm doing now when I was 25, there would have been no music, no albums, no games, nothing. It would have been chaos and people not receiving their shit.
But yeah, you have to be well planned and sort of ahead of the game. Like 18 months pretty much I'm trying to stay ahead of the game, which is sometimes somewhat boring and also it stresses me out knowing that I know what I will be doing at this time next year. But at the same time it does give me some peace of mind.
Evergrey 2022 tour dates:
9/16 – Eindhoven, Netherlands – Dynamo
9/17 – London, England – 229 venue
9/18 – Nottingham, England – Rescue Rooms
9/19 – Bristol, England – Thekla
9/20 – Manchester, England – Academy 3
9/21 – Dublin, Ireland – Voodoo Lounge
9/22 – Glasgow, Scotland – Cathouse
9/23 – Newcastle, England – St Dom’s Social Club
9/24 – Birmingham, England – The Asylum 2
9/25 – Leiden, Netherlands – Gebr. De Nobel
9/27 – Bremen, Germany – Tivoli
9/28 – Stuttgart, Germany – Im Wizemann Club
9/29 – Berlin, Germany – Columbia Theater
9/30 – Hamburg, Germany – Bahnhof Pauli
10/1 – Oberhausen, Germany – Resonanzwerk
10/2 – Lindau, Germany – Club Vaudeville
10/3 – Colmar, France – Le Grillen
10/4 – Munich, Germany – Backstage Halle
10/5 – Hannover, Germany – Faust
10/6 – Aschaffenburg, Germany – Colos-Saal
10/7 – Vosselaar, Belgium – Biebob
10/8 – Mannheim, Germany – 7er Club
10/9 – Ljubljana, Slovenia – Orto Bar
10/11 – Budapest, Hungary – Barba Negra
10/12 – Graz, Austria – Dom im Berg
10/13 – Wroclaw, Poland – Akademia
10/14 – Vienna, Austria – Viper Room
10/15 – Nuremberg, Germany – Hirsch
10/16 – Trier, Germany – Mergener Hof
10/17 – Luzern, Switzerland – Schüür
10/18 – Lyon, France – CCO Villeurbanne
10/19 – Barcelona, Spain – Boveda
10/20 – Madrid, Spain – Shoko
10/21 – Pamplona, Spain – Totem
10/22 – Toulouse, France – L'Usine
10/23 – Paris, France – Petit Bain