Evergrey are a supremely underrated progressive metal outfit from the metallic lands of Sweden, and this is their remastered debut album, from a time since when every single member of Evergrey except for its leader, lyricist and composer, Tom Englund, would depart.
The first album I picked up by Evergrey was "The Inner Circle," which, while a stellar and organic conceptual outing, was lacking dynamics in some respects. While the lyrical concept of the album, as with all Evergrey albums, was stellar and highly emotional, the group was totally refurbished following massive internal strife, and it's clear that Englund may have been having difficulty conveying the mass of his vision to his relatively new bandmates.
Not that it mattered to me at the time, but upon picking up "The Dark Discovery" I realized that the difference in members was a huge one, because the debut is a much, much more furious metal album. Incessantly bleak in its lyrical stance and featuring some highly creative and virtuosic playing on the part of Englund and especially then-drummer Patrick Carlsson, the album is a loud and ferocious din, almost thrashy in its intensity and featuring little of the notable gospel vocal stylings found over their later works. It is indeed like listening to a very different group.
Some things were the same from the outset, however: Englund had shown a propensity and inclination towards writing concept albums, often containing themes critical of organized religion, and this is no different: following a vague storyline involving a murderer who killed his best friend and who is being psychologically tortured by demons in Hell and the absence of God in Heaven, the lyrics are bleak, fiery, and almost, except for one ray of light at the very end, completely and utterly devoid of hope. Instrumentally, the group is highly skilled and gells around Carlsson's drumming to create a stellar debut. The production, even on the special edition, is rough around the edges, but for the most part this is highly listenable and very much a quality metal offering.
Tom S. Englund: Guitars, vocals, lyrics
Dan Bronell: Guitars
Daniel Nojd: Bass
Patrick Carlsson: Drums, Percussion
Will Chandra: Keyboards
Here's the album track-by-track:
1.) Blackened Dawn
Opening with furious technical riffing, this song lays all the cards on the table pretty much from the outset. Englund's vocals, even at this early stage contain traces of the later, fully-formed style of gospel/pop tones over the raging music, but here they are mutated into a ragged, pained bellow that makes it more accessible to fans of less extreme music and still placates, through the instrumentals, the fans of the ultra-complex, bash-your-head-in music. And boy, does the band deliver on that front. There's a great technical interlude with fantastic guitar, bass and drum interplay, and overall this song is an excellent opener. 4/5
2.) December 26th
Featuring another staggered-feel, technical metal riff, this follows a pattern Evergrey has of being a "plot-developer:" the intro song throws in the middle of pain, and the second song begins a sequence of songs explaining how everything began: in this case, the time of the protagonist's beginning of pain, "December 26th." Heavy, but on the whole more melodic, riffing, is the order of the day. Carlsson's drumming remains highly excellent, and the instrumental music contains a distinct dual-line harmony influence reminiscient of early Opeth and Dark Tranquility. The interlude here is a beast, featuring a shredding guitar solo from guest Mathias Eklundh (who now possesses a record deal with Steve Vai's Favored Nations, as a side note) and a furious, effective galloping riff, with moody keyboards providing atmosphere. Good stuff. 4/5
3.) Dark Discovery
Great keyboards and bass open this up, but the guitars are not far behind, nor are Carlsson's fantastic drums. The vocal melodies continue to be shredded expressions of pain, and this tone greatly suits the dirge-like material, as it sounds as bereft of hope as the guitar parts. 3.5/5
4.) As Light is Our Darkness
Featuring a quite pretty acoustic guitar part, which eventually breaks into the sort of Opeth-style harmonies found on albums like Morningrise (although admittedly a little less creative), the point here is to showcase Englund's emotive vocals, and at this these fantastic parts succeed. This song is short at two minutes, but beautiful and a useful interlude. 4.5/5
5.) Beyond Salvation
Following the same themes of the previous track, this song is a return to the raging progressive metal we've been listening to, and there is an abundance of great Carlsson drumbeats. I don't know what it is that causes me to enthuse over his drumbeats so much: he has a way of arranging his fills and beats so that they fit perfectly into the pocket of the guitar riffs being played: Carlsson is great at latching onto the dynamics and feel of the riffs underneath him and utilizing his technical skill to hit his drums at just the right moment. The interlude features the metallic guitars supporting the acoustic parts from the previous song, while the outro is a long showcase for Carlsson's great drumming. 4.5/5
6.) Closed Eyes
Great, moody acoustics open this up, played over the prerequisite sound of rain falling. Englund's vocals obtain a much darker tone on this, not neccesarily harsher but more despairing, fitting the ebb and flow of his concept very well. Evergrey has a keen grasp of dynamics on this album, and the continuous entries of the light and heavy instrumentals are great. The interlude features a typically melodic solo from Englund. A nice piece of work for the band's longest song on the album at just under 7 minutes. 5/5
7.) Trust and Betrayal
Raging riffs open this from the start, with a perfectly-placed downbeat when the verse enters. Tone-wise, this song is not very different from the ones that came before, with one exception: the fantastic outro, which capitalizes on the dissonant chorus riff and adds extremely ambient choir vocals, as barely audible vocal samplings discuss the condemnation of the protagonist.
The MIDI cello that opens this up is a little (no: a lot) fake-sounding, and is a less effective choice than that which I would have chosen, and when the instruments come in, the tone is quite similar to everything that came before. The bleakness of the album has remained relentless, but even working within that schema it's possible to come up with some diversity in tone, even so. Anyway, it's not like this song is BAD, or anything: it features the same excellent technical riffing from the guitarists, the great drumming, the harrowing vocals, etc. It's just that, as with all consistent albums, the quality is so usually excellent that it can induce boredom accidentally. Although, I will say that the interlude here is a great one, with a just-this-side-of-doomy riff. The lyrics are also very excellent. 3.5/5
9.) When the River Calls
Another great but probably, by this point, boring technical riff opens this up. It's really kind of a shame that Englund wrote an album designed to be listened to from beginning to end, but nevertheless came up with songs of such similar timbre and quality that most listeners will probably be more suited to listen to various tracks split up from one another. Anyway, this is another solid offering on all fronts. The rhythm section plays like beasts: although the bass isn't often audible, it carries many songs more than is immediately apparent. Another Eklundh solo is featured here with his trademark harmonic screams. I love the outro on this one too. 5/5
10.) For Every Tear that Falls
A great change with the piano vocals, although Englund's slightly overwrought vocals can strike some as amusing, which unfortunately brings the rating for this down. Englund's vocals would much improve over time, but here they're a little grating. His female guest vocalist is quite good, though, and overall, the song serves its purpose as a good interlude. I suppose this is the obligatory "power ballad" style song for the progressive concept album, but I think it hardly even qualifies as that given the emotion of the last half when the heavy instruments come in. The keyboards are great.
11.) To Hope is to Fear
Once again, the fury is unleashed with more riffing. The verse unfortunately features the same MIDI cello, which is super annoying. The harmony riffing is effective, but the pacing and feel is the same as much which has come previous. The interlude is another great one, and it kicks off the last half with tremendous emotion as the protagonist begs to be let into "the other side" into heaven as his emotional redemption draws near. This is the only ray of hope on this depressing album, and the outro is a wonderful example of excellent instrumental interplay, with great bass and pianowork especially. The song ends with the final, cliffhanging sound of a shutting steel door.
Great stuff, all around, and certainly for a debut album. My rating for this, just because it's utterly listenable even in the long stretches, is going to be a 4/5. I personally find this a highly enjoyable example of prog-metal that straddles the bleakness of Scandanavian death and black metal forms and the technical, conceptual precision of American prog-metal. I recommend picking this up for anyone whose tastes run towards more middle-of-the-line forms of heaviness: not too extreme, and certainly not too light, this band aims to please a wide range of metal fans, and delivers.