One of my most anticipated albums for the second half of 2016 was The Storm Within, the 10th full length album by Swedish progressive metal band Evergrey. I’ve made it no secret over the years that I’m a huge fan of their unique brand of dark progressive metal, where everything from the guitar tone to the keyboards, vocals and lyrics all contribute to the overall atmosphere of their music. Their 2004 album The Inner Circle still ranks as my favorite by them, but after some ups and downs following that release, they came back strong with their previous release Hymns for the Broken, so I was excited to see what they would come up with next, while admittedly still a bit nervous, just because they’ve had difficulties putting two consecutive great albums together in recent years. Thankfully, with The Storm Within they’ve not only retained all the strengths of their previous album, they’ve managed to put together an album that improves upon it in every possible way, making for one of the strongest albums of their career, and for sure one of the best prog albums to be released in 2016.
After several albums in a row marked by changes, it seems the Evergrey lineup has finally stabilized, as The Storm Within is the first time since Monday Morning Apocalypse that they’ve kept the exact same lineup for multiple albums in a row. This is a good thing, as the two longtime mainstays vocalist/guitarist Tom S. Englund and keyboardist Rikard Zander are both pretty much irreplaceable at this point, bassist Johan Niemann has settled into his role well, and obviously fans were excited to have guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl back in 2014. While the songwriting of Hymns for the Broken wasn’t always the best the band is capable of, its biggest strength was the energy of the returning members as well as the fact that them being back seemed to energize the rest of the band, resulting in some of the best performances from the band in recent years. This time around, Tom’s vocals and lyrics are as powerful and emotionally resonant as ever, Rikard’s keyboards continue to provide nice ambiance as always, Henrik’s riffs are as crushing as ever before and Jonas is as smooth and on point as ever on drums. It also helps that the production is just as strong as it was on the last album. So basically, the band has lost none of the energy they regained on Hymns for the Broken, making this the first time in years where it feels like the band has successfully built on their previous album. More importantly, the song writing this time is on a slightly higher level, still containing the same kind of dark and atmospheric tracks the band has always excelled at, but also stretching out a bit with some of their heaviest songs in recent years, as well as a bit more speed than their last two albums. I also find this album to have some of the catchiest songs they’ve written since Recreation Day. On the whole, it’s an Evergrey album through and through, but with some slight modern touches.
Evergrey has always been great at opening tracks, with songs like “The Masterplan” and “A Touch of Blessing” being among the best, most immediately engaging opening tracks I’ve ever heard, and even “King of Errors” from their previous album was pretty damn impressive. They’ve done something a little bit different this time, with “Distance”. The track starts off very slowly with very cold sounding piano notes, then some modern sounding, punishing riffs enter in, but the pace remains very slow. It’s the kind of crushing, atmospheric prog the band specializes in, and while it doesn’t have the immediate impact of some of their other openings, it’s the kind of track that slowly grows on you until eventually you realize how brilliant it is. Its chorus is very strong, and the choirs towards the end are used very effectively, to help set the tone for the album. After this, “Passing Through” is a much harder hitting track, moving at a slightly faster tempo, though it’s still mostly mid paced. In the second verse the riffs get heavier and the song really picks up, with some great vocals from Tom, and the chorus is definitely one of their strongest and catchiest in quite a while.
My main criticism against Hymns for the Broken was that after a strong start it kinda lost momentum in the middle, with several similar sounding tracks in a row that, while effective on their own, blended together so that they weren’t all that enjoyable to listen to all in a row. While I can’t say this album completely avoids that pitfall, it definitely doesn’t lose as much momentum as its predecessor did. “Someday” is a more typical power ballad, mostly reliant on the atmospheric keys and Tom’s excellent vocals, but with occasional bits where the guitars take over. It’s a very nice track with another excellent chorus. Really, the only track that makes me lose my patience a little bit is “Astray”. It has a great main riff and it’s a nice song overall, but it feels a bit too samey to the previous song for my ears, except it’s not as memorable.
Aside from that, though, the album never loses its way for an extended period like Hymns did, and after the really nice piano driven ballad “The Impossible”, we hit the best sequence of the album. “My Allied Ocean” is probably my favorite on the album and it comes as a bit of a surprise, as it’s the kind of guitar driven, fast paced track they haven’t done much since Recreation Day. In fact, between the overall feel, the speed and the guitar leads after the chorus, it reminds me a lot of that album’s classic opening track “The Great Deceiver”. Henrik really shines on this song, with some great riffs throughout, especially during a voice-over section in the middle,and the solo that ensues, as well as those aforementioned leads after the chorus.
Another track where he stands out is “The Lonely Monarch”, a track which has faster paced verses, though the modern sounding keys and Tom’s vocals take over during the excellent chorus. It has a solo section that reminds me of classic Evergrey, and that’s where Henrik gets to really showcase his skills. In between those two tracks is “In Orbit”, more of a mid paced keyboard driven track, with another very catchy chorus. In fact, it’s one of the most accessible songs the band has ever made, and this feeling is enhanced by guest vocals from current Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen, who shows up during the second verse and the last few runs through the chorus. It’s certainly one of their most melodic songs as well one of their catchiest to date. Another late album highlight is “Paradox of the Flame”, a piano driven ballad where we get the expected appearance from Carina Englund. As always, she sounds amazing with Tom and the two of them provide some very emotional vocals that help enhance the powerful, devastating lyrics. The end of the album reminds me a lot of how the previous album ended: We have the lengthy, hard hitting “Disconnect”, where we get some very modern sounding riffs contrasted against the atmospheric keys and a very nice chorus, eventually giving way to an excellent extended instrumental section towards the end, while the closing title track is the kind of power ballad the band always does well, and it too has a nice extended instrumental section. I don’t find the latter quite as impressive as the 5 tracks that come before, but it’s still a nice way to close the album.
After Hymns for the Broken proved to be one of the strongest Evergrey albums in recent years, I was a bit concerned their next effort would feel a bit uninspired, but thankfully The Storm Within has proven me wrong. Instead, it carries over all the energy of its predecessor while also containing some of the best, most varied songwriting the band has had since their classic period from 2001-2004. It features the unique brand of dark, atmospheric prog the band has always been known for, but it also has some of their catchiest and most melodic songs to date, making it a very good starting point. Longtime fans of the band should be very happy with this release, and I also think fans of prog in general, especially those who like their music to have a darker tone, should enjoy this one.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2016/09/07/evergrey-storm-within-review/