Veteran prog-metal band Evergrey returned Friday with its latest album, Escape of the Phoenix. Originally scheduled for release this past December, the band’s 12th album is everything that audiences have come to expect from the band. That is evidenced through the record’s musical and lyrical content alike, each of which will be discussed here. The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation. Each item noted here plays its own crucial part to the whole of this record. All things considered, they make Escape of the Phoenix a powerful new offering from Evergrey that further cements the band’s place in the echelon of progressive metal.
Evergrey’s latest album Escape of the Phoenix is a powerful new offering from the veteran prog-metal outfit. It is a presentation that will appeal equally to the band’s established audience base as to prog-metal and metal fans alike. That is due in part to the musical arrangements that are featured throughout the record’s 11 total songs. The arrangements in question are at times just as heavy as anything the band has ever crafted. At other times, the arrangement turn deeply contemplative and soft, yet so heavy in that controlled approach. One of the most notable of the album’s heavier tracks is the record’s title track. Coming late in the record’s 58-minute run, the heavy, aggro approach to the guitars and the stop-on-a-dime precision of the time keeping pairs with the vocals and the heaviness of the bass to fully stand out. The fullness of the arrangement will completely envelope listeners, ensuring their engagement and entertainment. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is ‘In Absence of Sun. The sense of melancholy established through the song’s gently flowing piano line will tug at any listener’s heart strings. Front man Tom Englund’s mournful, semi-operatic vocal delivery style here adds even more depth to the arrangement. As the song progresses, it builds, adding in some real heaviness in the guitars and drums. The whole lends itself to comparison to works from Dream Theater. Speaking of Dream Theater, James LaBrie, the band’s front man joins Evergrey in another of the album’s heavier moments, ‘The Beholder.’ There are some hints of Dream Theater’s influence here, but for the most part, this is more of an orchestral/metal hybrid whose heaviness and darkness gives the album even more depth. The synthesized strings and choral element join with the rest of the arrangement to make the song another unique composition that still bears a stylistic similarity for longtime listeners. Between this presentation, the others noted here and the rest of the album’s arrangements, what audiences get overall, is an overall musical presentation that is stylistically familiar for longtime listeners, but still exhibits unique new arrangements from one to the next. The foundation that this mix of the new and the familiar is rock solid and just one example of what makes the album stand out. The lyrical content that accompanies the record’s musical arrangements makes for its own share of engagement and entertainment.
The lyrical content that is featured in Evergrey’s new record is heavy in its own right. Englund noted during an interview promoting the album, that the lyrical content featured in the record comes from a personal place.
“I write lyrics for myself, to get things out of my system,” he said. “This has been my therapy, really, for the last 25 years. I’m very certain that if we didn’t do this, I would be a much more miserable person. I’ve got to thank music for everything, especially having the outlet to write lyrics.”
“There’s a theory that writing things to yourself is therapeutic, and I think that’s very true,” added Englund. “The composing of the lyrics is extremely important to me; just as important as writing the music. Even more, sometimes. For me it’s like painting a picture with words. I see really clearly what it’s about; it’s a world for me.”
‘Forever Outsider’ is among the most notable of the album’s works, in considering its lyrical side. Englund leaves no doubt here, the song touches on the familiar topic of trying to find one’s place in the world. That is made clear in the song’s chorus, which finds Englund singing, “What it all comes down to/Was that I never felt like one of you/Light changed and so did my soul/I went from broken to whole/Still knowing that I’d always be/Forever outsider.” The song’s second verse adds to the noted argument, as Englund sings, “Always felt like an orphan of shadows/Baptized at night/Always felt like a stranger to mankind/I lied across all borders to justify life/A born denier because life is a lie.” These are statements that will resonate with a wide range of listeners, not just angsty teens. On the exact opposite emotional end of things here is ‘Eternal Nocturnal.’ This full-on prog-metal opus actually presents some sense of hope in its lyrical content.
The noted sense of hope does not come right away. Rather, Englund sets the stage for the message in the song’s lead verse as he sings, “Hand in hand with the hopeless/I see you drowning in the harbor of the soulless/Your mind is like wild horses/Stampede/It rages/You’re distorted/And we were watching from afar/And we were hiding in our own dark/Hoping we would be brave enough for you.” From here, the noted message of hope is delivered in the song’s chorus, which states, “I’ll be your winds when you need a storm/Your sense of hope when you fall/I’ll be your shelter when you need a home/I’ll be your reasons to all/And when you’re feeling down and low/I’ll be your eyes in the dark/And I’ll be there when your time will come.” The translation is relatively simple. This is someone offering help to someone else who is going through some very difficult emotional times. The chorus’ refrain builds that message even more as Englund adds in the second time around, “And if you find yourself on the outside/You never need to feel that you’re all alone/Because I’ll be there in your times of twilight/Forever nocturnal/I’ll be your eyes in the dark.” This is collectively a strong statement that many listeners will find helpful when they have to navigate those emotional waters. It is just one more of the ways in which the album’s lyrical content proves integral to its overall presentation. ‘You From You,’ which comes even later in the album (and opens with a distinct 80s power ballad type approach) is another example of the importance of the record’s lyrical content.
‘You From You’ comes across as being a statement from someone who is fed up with being caught up in someone else’s misery; someone who it would seem does not want things to get better. This is inferred right from the song’s outset in which the main subject is making a comparison, pointing the finger at that other person. The subject sings here, “I fought since my youth/I scraped the pain away/I’ve come to a conclusion/That there are no words to say/Even though I’ve done all I could/There are so many things I can’t do/One is to save you from you.” He continues from there, “I offer me and all that’s true/My peace within might guide you through/Your darkest times and your loneliest days/But I can’t save you I can’t save you from you/Because you didn’t climb at all/And I didn’t want to fall/But I never needed more than your heart/That was all/You never gave it up and I didn’t want to fight/In a war on the inside.” The subject concludes his statement, singing, “I’m leaving you/I’m leaving you/From the dead lights/Through the dark nights and the insights/I cannot save you from you.” This is another overall statement that will resonate with listeners. Lots of people, if not everyone, has been in such a situation at one point or another in their lives, dealing with such a type of person. To that end, the song will help those listeners in those situation deal with those situations, too. When this is considered along with the other lyrical themes noted here and the album’s remaining lyrical content, that whole proves just as important as the album’s musical arrangements. The two elements together give listeners more than enough to appreciate. They are collectively still just a portion of what makes the record stand out. Its production rounds out its most important elements.
The production that went into the creation of Escape of the Phoenix is important to address because that work was responsible for balancing everything that happened in each arrangement. From the wall of sound that the guitars create in so many of the album’s arrangements to the emotional impact of the Englund’s vocals, to the subtleties of the keyboards, and other items, the fullest attention was paid to the record’s production. No one item overpowered another at any given point in the album. The result of the painstaking efforts to balance each element in each song is a record that will engage and entertain listeners just as much for its sound as for its content. Keeping this in mind, the whole of the production and overall content here makes Escape of the Phoenix a viable candidate for a spot among this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums.
Evergrey’s latest album Escape of the Phoenix presents its own escape that the band’s established audience base will find appealing and engaging just as much as metal and prog-metal fans. That is proven in part through its musical arrangements. The arrangements in question are their own unique works from one to the next. At the same time, each work still takes a stylistic approach that the noted established fan base will appreciate. The lyrical content that accompanies the record’s musical content is also important to the album’s presentation. That is due to their clear accessibility. Much of the lyrical content featured in the album will resonate with audiences, as the songs examined here show. The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation, bringing everything full circle. It makes the record appealing just as much for its overall sound as for its content. Each item noted here is clearly important in its own way to the whole of this album. All things considered, they make the album a viable option for any critic’s list of this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums. Escape of the Phoenix is available now through AFM Records.
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