Tom S. Englund has been very prolific the past few years. In addition to Evergrey, who released the studio album Escape of the Phoenix last year and Live: Before the Aftermath earlier this year, Englund is involved in some other projects.
Along with metal bands such as Redemption, Ayreon and Epysode, Englund collaborates with pianist Vikram Shankar in Silent Skies, who have a very different style. They released an album earlier this year on Napalm Records. That also happens to be Evergrey’s new label home.
Other Evergrey band members have been or are currently involved in other projects as well, which seems to give their main band an extra creative spark when they convene for a new record. That exactly what happened with their latest album A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament).
While Evergrey has developed a distinctive style of progressive/power metal driven by Englund’s powerful and emotional vocals, each album has something that makes it unique in their discography that now spans nearly a quarter century.
A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) is an album of contrasts. It has some of their heaviest sections in quite a while. Bombastic guitars from Englund and Henrik Danhage are front and center on songs like opener "Save Us" and the driving "Blindfolded." "Save Us" also includes the voices of hundreds of fans.
Those heavy riffs are also present on “Midwinter Calls” (which also contains fan participation) along with atmospheric keyboards and a catchy chorus. Mixing in progressive parts makes tracks like “Ominous” more interesting, while “Call Out the Dark” is the record’s most mainstream and accessible song.
There are a few songs that transition from rockers to ballads and back again, but the song that is a ballad all the way through is the closer "Wildfires." It's not a power ballad, though, with a sparse arrangement and a reserved vocal performance. It ends the record on an introspective note.
Power metal can be cheesy and melodramatic. That's not the case with Evergrey, who write songs that are dramatic, but avoid melodrama by connecting emotionally with the listener, thanks mostly to Englund's dynamic singing style. Their arrangements also have a lot of depth, sometimes using symphonic elements, other times utilizing more subtle keyboard sounds.
Band members have been producing or co-producing Evergrey albums for a long time. Englund and drummer Jonas Ekdahl helmed the past few albums, and that's also the case with A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament).
While an outside perspective can be helpful, Evergrey have been doing this long enough that they know how to shape their sound. It's a nice balance of bombast and quieter, mellower moments. That gives Englund's vocals an even greater impact.
I’ve written it before and will write it again: Evergrey are one of metal’s most underrated bands, at least outside of Europe. They have released a ton of outstanding albums over the years, and you can add A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) to that list. The short turnaround time between albums did not hamper the quality one bit.