The veteran Swedish progressive metal band Evergrey have been around for a quarter-century. And while they have had commercial success in their native country with several top 10 albums, and have charted elsewhere in Europe, they remain underrated in North America. They have built a loyal and growing fan base here, but haven’t yet broken through to that proverbial “next level.”
Their twelfth studio album Escape of the Phoenix may or may not do that, but it is another in a long line of high-quality releases from Evergrey. As for the title of the album, frontman Tom S Englund elaborates. “When you talk about the resurrection of the phoenix, that started a mindgame for me,” Englund says. “What if the bird doesn't want to be resurrected? What if it doesn't want to come back? That sort of resembles things in life; sometimes you get tired of standing up and being strong.”
Evergrey’s style has always been more melancholic and emotional than the typical band of this genre, and that’s evident on Escape of the Phoenix, beginning with the opener “Forever Outsider.” It’s heavy and intense, yet melodic, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the record.
The songs on the album aren’t short (generally in the four to the six-minute range), but they are direct with atmospherics augmenting, not overwhelming the arrangements. That includes keyboards, strings, and on “In Absence Of Sun,” the piano in the first third of the track before the intensity shifts and guitars become prominent.
While Englund’s vocals are the main focus, and deservedly so, the guitar work on the album is top-notch. Henrik Danhage and Englund supply memorable riffs throughout, especially evident on heavier songs such as “Dandelion Cipher” and album closer “Leaden Saint.”
The band did a nice job with track order, as the album flows well between brisker songs and ballads such as “Phoenix” and the soaring “You From You.” Halfway through the record is “The Beholder,” which features guest vocals from Dream Theater’s James LaBrie. Englund says he told LaBrie about the idea for the song, which LaBrie liked and agreed to do it.
“I think the song came out perfectly,” Englund says. “There's a keyboard break in the song, and everyone in the band said, ‘We need James LaBrie for this part.' He sounds amazing on the track, and we sound great together." Englund’s soulful style and LaBrie’s smooth approach blend well together, making “The Beholder” one of the album’s highlights.
The album was produced by the legendary Jacob Hansen, who mixed their last few albums, including 2019’s The Atlantic. He helps give the album plenty of punch without stifling the very dynamic songs.
After the previous few albums were more concept-oriented, this time around Englund drew on more personal topics, which helps give the record even more emotional heft. That synergy between music and lyrics can make an album greater than the sum of its parts, something Evergrey have been able to consistently do over their long career, and have done again with Escape of the Phoenix.