Review Summary: Decent for what it is, but not really all that interesting in the long run.
Evergrey is one of those bands that sort of falls between the wayside in everything. Not that they ever were that bad, as albums like "In Search of Truth" and "Recreation Day" are acclaimed critically, but they never really rose to stardom like some of their peers, especially those from the Swedish music scene. Within the progressive/power metal niche they are fairly well-known, but they seem to never come up when someone mentions the real greats; Opeth or Dream Theater simply never seem to find "Evergrey" next to it.
And despite their musical qualities, 2008's Torn will probably not change that. Despite this being their seventh full-length studio album, they seem to have stuck to the tried and true Evergrey formula for making music. If a musician cook were to prepare a meal of an Evergrey song, he'd probably do it like this every time:
"Take a solid base of chugga-chugga riffing. Add a good midtempo rhythm section to underpin the rhythmic guitar foundations of the song. Don't make it stand out too much: mix it well. Add a couple of lead guitars. Not too much flash, or you'll just look like a wanker shred band. Also add some atmospheric keyboards, preferably ones that set a darker mood. Then add some nice high-pitched, well-executed vocals and lyrics about, well, relationships and humanity and such. Stir and simmer for a bit. Put in the preheated (set to Metal temperature) oven for an hour. Then take it out and it's ready to serve in a live setting."
This is pretty much every song on this album. Despite the interesting concept (solid progressive/power metal), it never really seems to take flight all that much. Every song pretty much follows the recipe described above, never really rising or sinking below that level. Songs vary between melodies, but that is pretty much the only discerning factor: whether Englund is singing an interesting or a non-interesting vocal line. Most of the time he pretty much kicks ass, like on the title track "Torn" or on "These Scars", with some really haunting melodies that can actually get stuck in your head. He also has a nice voice that is highly melodic without being screechy or unduly aggressive. But parts of this album are bogged down by what's backing him. He's singing good melodies over stale riffs and rhythms, and despite Englund's best efforts to make the songs stray from similarity, eventually the album seems to run together and become too samey.
The other issue is that Evergrey are in a sort of identity crisis when it comes to the musical style they want to adopt. There are high-pitched vocals typical of power metal, but there isn't that much double-bass or hightempo music to be found, with the band trying to groove rather than speedster their way through songs. There are dark chugga-chugga riffs, but the keyboards and lead guitars make it seem just a little too happy to be convincing. And the lyrics seem to focus more on human issues than the regular fantasy dungeons and dragons cheese we find in this genre; but the relationship issues aren't really addressed that well, either. They can't seem to find a real niche for themselves. They do have a sound to call their own, but it's still too mediocre to really be of any major importance because in the end their sound is going to have a limited appeal.
The thing is, this record isn't that bad. The strength of the melodies on some of these tunes is impressive, and England really gives off a good performance. The band aren't bad musicians either, as there are no sloppy performances, and the album is graced by a good audible production as well. But the main issue seems to be that even with all these pluses, none of the backing music allows the songs to truly stick, and listening to this album eventually becomes an "in one ear, out the other" experience. It's nice for what it is when you're actually listening to it, but it leaves no lasting impression, and I guess that is what separates Evergrey from the real heavyweights; they just don't seem to be able to write anything better than "decent." And this album doesn't do anything to change that.