EVERGREY — A Heartless Portrait: The Orphean Testament

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EVERGREY - A Heartless Portrait: The Orphean Testament cover
3.82 | 6 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 2022

Tracklist

1. Save Us (4:45)
2. Midwinter Calls (5:06)
3. Ominous (6:10)
4. Call Out the Dark (4:23)
5. The Orphean Testament (6:30)
6. Reawakening (4:15)
7. The Great Unwashed (6:03)
8. Heartless (5:09)
9. Blindfolded (4:13)
10. Wildfires (3:40)

Total Time 50:14

Line-up/Musicians

- Tom Englund / Vocals, Guitars
- Henrik Danhage / Guitars
- Rikard Zander / Keyboards
- Johan Niemann / Bass
- Jonas Ekdahl / Drums

About this release

Label: Napalm Records

Release Date: May 20th, 2022

Thanks to DippoMagoo for the addition and adg211288 for the updates

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EVERGREY A HEARTLESS PORTRAIT: THE ORPHEAN TESTAMENT reviews

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DippoMagoo
Over the years, Swedish progressive metal band Evergrey have proven themselves to be one of the most unique, as well as most productive and consistently entertaining bands in their genre. While early works such as In Search of Truth and The Inner Circle are likely never going to be topped as their overall best albums, they’ve been consistently putting out great music over the past two and a half decades, and as they move ever closer towards celebrating 30 years of existence, the band shows no sign of letting up any time soon. After finding their 2019 release The Atlantic to be solid but not quite up to their usual standards, the band immediately won me over again in 2021 with Escape of the Phoenix, an album that contained a mixture of all the different elements I’ve come to love about their music. With their 13th full-length release A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), they’ve released quite possibly their best album since my personal favorite, The Inner Circle, and it should please any longtime fan of the band.

Aside from a brief period of turmoil in the late 2000’s/early 2010s, seeing different band members moving in and out, and releasing albums of varying quality, Evergrey has always had a signature sound, which they’ve maintained throughout their career, and A Heartless Portrait is no exception. They play their distinct brand of prog that is at times a bit too aggressive and dark to be considered melodic prog, while simultaneously being a bit too melodic and vocal-driven to be considered a more typical prog band. Instead, their sound can best be described as a distinct style of atmospheric prog, where the music and lyrics always have a dark, somber tone to them, with the lyrics often being very introspective, while the music alternates between rough and heavy, to sometimes being very soft and hauntingly beautiful. All of this is true of A Heartless Portrait, which almost feels like a summary of the band’s career, featuring bursts of some of their heaviest material in quite some time, while also having some of their softest tracks, as well as some surprisingly catchy tracks, and even some of their most complex tracks to date. Fans of any previous Evergrey album should find something to love here, as there’s plenty of variety to the tracks, and it feels like instead of trying to take things in a specific direction, the band made an album that fully represents all aspects of their sound, and everything is pulled off wonderfully.

As always, the one most defining feature of the band is vocalist/guitarist Tom S. Englund, whose voice remains as distinct as ever, often staying if a fairly low range, though he does go for pretty big high notes at times, and as fans would expect, he gives a very powerful, very emotional performance throughout the album, sounding fully invested in the lyrics, which are dark and sorrowful as ever, with the closing track “Wildfires” in particular almost being too depressing to listen to. Everything else also sounds fantastic, with lead guitarist Henrik Danhage delivering his typical mix of intense riffs and nice melodic solos, while keyboardist Rikard Zander largely provides backdrops to the music, occasionally becoming the main focus on a few tracks, and the rhythm section is excellent as usual, as is the production.

One aspect I’m always a bit concerned about with Evergrey is the songwriting, not because they’ve ever been particularly bad at it, which is far from the truth, but because I find while some of their albums are consistently excellent, others have a few big standouts while the rest isn’t quite up to par, and then there’s stuff like Glorious Collision and The Atlantic which I find enjoyable the whole way through, but without any real highlights. Thankfully, A Heartless Portrait is both one of their most consistent albums in quite some time, while also having some pretty huge standout tracks, and those are spread out pretty evenly throughout the album, so there’s always something exciting to look forward to as the album progresses.

The album gets off to a strong start with the lead single “Save Us”, which features a very memorable, hard-hitting main riff, accompanied by some energetic verses, and a very melodic, catchy chorus where Englund gets to show off his voice. There’s also a very beautiful guitar solo in the second half of the track, as well as some epic choral vocals provided by some fans the band invited to help with the recording of the track. This continues with “Midwinter Calls”, which features some haunting backing vocals throughout, once again performed by fans, and I especially love the effect here, as there’s a somewhat creepy feel to the vocals, which blends in nicely with the atmosphere of the music. The track has a bit of a gothic feel to it, is fairly laid back and mid-tempo, with rather subdued riffs, while still having the occasional heavy parts, as well as another excellent guitar solo and a nice chorus.

Perhaps the most complex track on the album is “Ominous”, which alternates between some slightly up-tempo heavier sections and softer, almost ballad-like sections with some very haunting lyrics and excellent vocals, mixed in with a fantastic chorus. The track also has a slightly different structure, with an extensive guitar solo taking up most of the middle of the track, and there is quite a bit of moving pieces to it. In similar territory is the first of two title tracks “The Orphean Testament”, coming two tracks later. It’s another fairly complex track, with a very heavy main riff and rather up-tempo verses, mixed with a much more downbeat, sorrowful chorus. Like “Ominous”, there’s quite a bit going on here, and it too has a rather extensive solo section, alternating nicely between an atmospheric keyboard solo and a very beautiful guitar solo. In between those two tracks is “Call Out the Dark”, a more straightforward, softer track with a power ballad feel to it. While there’s some nice guitar work on the track, it’s one of the more keyboard-driven tracks overall, with some very atmospheric keys leading the way, along with the vocals, and it has another very catchy chorus.

While the lyrics throughout the album are very dark and often depressing, the closest it ever comes to showing any optimism is on “Reawakening”, a more upbeat, somewhat power metal influenced track. It features some fairly slow and relaxing verses, where the keyboards lead the way, but as the chorus approaches the tempo picks up in a big way, and the chorus itself is one of the most upbeat and catchy sections on the album. It’s not one of the heaviest tracks on the album, but it has a lot of energy, and is very fun and catchy, making it a standout among the pack. Next is “The Great Unwashed”, another softer track that somewhat falls into power ballad territory, with a powerful but rather subdued main riff, mixed with more dark, atmospheric keys and a chorus that is very somber but also quite beautiful, with some of the best vocal melodies on the album.

Perhaps my favorite track on the album is “Heartless”, a track that alternates between speedy verses, where the keyboards have a slight trance feel to them, and a slow, laid back chorus, which is perhaps one of the catchiest, most radio-friendly chorus the band has ever written. It’s another very emotional track, with an incredible performance by Englund, and the contrast between the speedier verses, and the outright devastating chorus is quite breathtaking and helps make it one of my favorite tracks the band has released in quite some time. The momentum continues with “Blindfolded”, a more mid-paced track that has some of the heaviest, most crushing riffs on the album, and it’s another track with an excellent mix between aggressive guitars and atmospheric keys, as well as having another excellent chorus. Closing out the album is “Wildfires”, an absolutely beautiful, largely acoustic ballad that has some wonderful melodies and yet another fantastic vocal performance, but the lyrics are downright hard to take at times and leave the listener with a bitter feeling. At the same time, it’s a very fitting ending for the album and is an excellent track in its own right, but man, those lyrics hit hard.

At this point, Evergrey fans should know exactly what to expect from the band, and A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) delivers exactly that, while also being their best work in quite some time, showcasing all aspects of their music wonderfully. It’s a very dark album, with some very hard-hitting lyrics, as well as some of the band’s heaviest material at points, to go along with some very atmospheric tracks, and a few softer tracks, so there’s certainly a bit of something for everyone. Longtime fans of the band are sure to love this, while newcomers also highly recommended to give this a listen, to get an idea of what the band is all about since it’s a perfect representation of everything the band is and always has been, while also being one of their best albums to date.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2022/05/18/evergrey-a-heartless-portrait-the-orphean-testament-review/
lukretion
With Escape of the Phoenix still hot off the press, dark metal maestros Evergrey are set to release a new full-length album, their 13th to date, on May 20th via Napalm Records. The writing of A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) started almost immediately after the release of Escape of the Phoenix, with the same line-up comprised of singer/guitarist Tom S Englund, guitarist Henrik Danhage, keyboard player Rikard Zander, drummer Jonas Ekdahl, and bass player Johan Niemann. Inevitably, the new album inhabits similar sonic territories as the previous one, to the point that in interviews frontman Tom S Englund jokingly referred to it as “Escape of the Phoenix Part II”. But if you are worried that the record’s 10 songs may just be leftover material from the Phoenix sessions, let me reassure you: although the two records share similar strengths and weaknesses, on balance A Heartless Portrait is even stronger than its predecessor.

Once a herald of dark progressive/power metal, over the years Evergrey have gradually morphed their sound into a highly developed form of modern metal, rich as much in melody as in heart-breaking melancholia. Nevertheless, the band’s prog metal heritage is still lurking there somewhere in the Swedes’ musical brains, and it helps them sidestep the cardinal sin of many modern melodic metal albums: an excess of emphasis on vocal melodies at the expense of musical substance. Evergrey combine the big, soaring melodies and simple song structures of the genre with a satisfying barrage of muscular riffs, sophisticated arrangements, and virtuoso leads and solos, which allow the music to be much more than mere background for the vocals. In a handful of tracks, the riffs and arrangements get really exciting, like the intricate guitar lines of “The Great Unwashed”, or the brilliant solo duels between Englund, Danhage and Zander on the title-track.

The high dosage of solos is probably one of the most striking and engaging aspects of this record. In nearly all songs, Englund and Danhage take turns to provide beautifully melodic and suitably virtuoso guitar leads, with Rikard Zander interjecting a few trailblazing keyboard solos in a couple of tracks too. It’s a nice touch that wasn’t perhaps so much prominent in Escape of the Phoenix and that brings me back to the “classic” ol’ metal sound of yesteryears. For the rest, most of the spotlights are on Englund’s beautiful and emotive vocal performance. The man has one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable voices in metal: gravelly and powerful, yet warm, passionate and full of yearning. He is a spectacular singer, who can transform each melody into a heart-rending masterpiece.

The album contains several strong tracks, fuelled by inspired songwriting and excellent melodies. In fact, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that some of the songs included here are among the best Evergrey have written throughout their whole career. The title-track is a muscular tour de force that takes heads on the listener with one of the heaviest episodes of the record, before softening into a beautiful middle-8 that paves the way for a fantastic trio of solos by Englund, Danhage and Zander. “The Great Unwashed” features a great, proggy riff and a strong chorus, while “Blindfolded” is a dark and brooding piece that creates a stark contrast with the serene, semi-acoustic album closer, “Wildfires”. You may have noticed that most of the songs I mentioned so far appear in the album’s second half. The first half also contains some good tracks (good luck in getting the chorus of “Call out the Dark” out of your head), but is somewhat weaker and less explosive than the second-half. Tracks like “Save Me”, “Midwinter Calls” and “Ominous” are in all respects decent and pleasant, but they sound a tad too generic and fail to stand out as much as other songs here. The same goes for “Reawakening” and “Heartless”, two tracks that veer dangerously close to the filler status.

This alternation between first-rate and second-rate songs is a frustrating feature of many recent Evergrey’s albums, and this one is no exception. Fortunately, the scale here is definitely tipped in favour of the better tracks, which is why I think A Heartless Portrait is a stronger album than its predecessor. However, looking at the bigger picture and putting the album in the context of Evergrey’s discography, I must say that A Heartless Portrait does not add much to the previous 3 or 4 releases by the band. This is Evergrey doing what they do best, without changing much their sound or taking any risks. When the music is as good as this, it’s hard to complain. Nevertheless, I am left slightly underwhelmed by this album, because I always look forward to being challenged by the music I listen to, especially when it comes from one of my favourite bands that I have been following for over 20 years now.

Ultimately, I suspect that how much you will like this record probably depends on how much you are bothered by listening to slight variations of the same musical formula album after album. If that is something that bothers you a great deal, subtract half star to my rating. If that does not concern you, add a full star. Regardless of the final score, A Heartless Portrait remains a top quality product from one of the most talented bands out there. In a market oversaturated with thousands of mediocre new releases, this cannot be but a highly recommended listen.

[Edited from original written for The Metal Observer]

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