Released: 2008, SPV Steamhammer
Reviewer: The Crimson King
This September brings the new release of a highly regarded metal band. A band, who, many believe, made a major misstep with their last album by completely changing their sound and by doing so got tagged with the dreaded term “sell-out”. A band who promised a new album that would be a return to the classic sound of their third and fourth albums. And many doubted that this band might still have it them. But then, the band started to leak some song snippets from in the studio and fans began to show hope. Monthly trailers were posted on line, containing even more glimpses of what was to come, and based off what they heard, fans began to brim with anticipation. Finally, August saw a full song posted on the bands site, and it became clear that the band was ready to deliver on all of the promises they made. Now finally after all the build up the new Evergrey album, TORN, is finally here (did you think I was talking about someone else….)
TORN comes as the follow-up to 2006’s MONDAY MORNING APOCALYPSE, an album that saw the band, with the help of an outside producer, completely strip down the dark progressive sound that made albums such as RECREATION DAY and THE INNER CIRCLE favorites among the progressive metal crowd, and left many fans screaming sell-out. The new album sees the band returning to the form of their earlier, darker albums, while still incorporating some of the influences from MONDAY MORNING APOCALYPSE into the songwriting. In doing so, the band may have just produced the best album of their career.
The album opens with “Broken Wings”, and from the instant the first power chord is struck you can tell that the dark tone that has defined their sound is clearly back. The song is reminiscent of “A Touch of Blessing” from THE INNER CIRCLE album in that it relies on a heavy palm muted guitar chunk followed by a minor run to carry the verses before transitioning to an atmospheric keyboard passage overlaid by chords to backdrop the chorus. The song is classic Evergrey and one of the best on the album. It is followed up by “Soaked” and it is here where Englund’s vocals really get to shine. The vocals that lead off the track are sung with such emotive power that the first time I heard the track I was left awestruck. Englund has always had the ability to wrench every possible bit of emotion out of his vocal performances, similar to Zak Stevens days with Savatage, but he clearly has taken it to another level on this album, and this song showcases one of the best vocal performances he has ever done. The band continues to showcase their diversity throughout the release, and touch on all of their classic sounds, from the Symphony X style scorching riff that begins “Fear,” to the Dream Theater like time signatures and Pertrucci-esque riffing found in “Numb,” right through breadth and depth of the playing in the slower “When Kingdoms Fall”, and in doing so they put together one of the most impressive collections of music found in their catalogue.
But what really makes the album fantastic is that many of the songs have subtle nuances that can only be appreciated on subsequent listens. While many songs keep to a somewhat standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus style melodically, the music beneath is in subtle yet constant flux. “Fail” keeps the same melody in both verse and chorus throughout the song, yet the music that underlies each verse is completely different, and the chorus adds underlying lead passages that alter each time through. The final chorus in the song is sung over a completely new piece of music that is introduced simply for this section. These shifts in dynamics are ever present throughout the album, thus allowing the album to be appreciated on multiple levels.
The album finishes up with “These Scars,” a six minute tour de force that, simply put, may be the best song the band has ever written. It starts with a crushing riff and a ferocious vocal in the verse that quickly moves to a pre chorus that Englund just soars over, and transitions to a chorus that is at first under-lied by a slow passage which the crunching guitars come pouring back over almost before you could get your head around the transition. Female vocals (that I can only assume, due to a lack of liner notes on my promo copy, are provided by Englund’s wife) are used in the bridge and add another layer of depth to the track. Another piece of music in introduced for the breakdown before Tom’s vocals come pouring back in to end the track. The song absolutely bleeds emotion and works as a fantastic culmination to a career defining album.
To say that TORN is a return to form for Evergrey would be misstating what the band has accomplished with this release. The album is an evolution for the band rather than a return to any past form. While the album most closely resembles both RECREATION DAY and THE INNER CIRCLE (which happen to be two of the best albums of this decade), the craft and emotion present on this release at times goes beyond anything found on those two masterpieces. This is an astonishing achievement for the band and THE absolute must own progressive metal album of the year.