Review Summary: Easily their best in ten years.
In many ways the last decade hasn't been kind to Evergrey. The group has undergone a slew of lineup changes and released three albums that haven't exactly been received as classics (Monday Morning Apocalypse
(2008), Glorious Collision
(2011). Vocalist and founding member Tom Englund acknowledges the band was experiencing doubt, confusion and whether or not they wanted to continue on with the project at all. It showed in the quality of the music. Evergrey drifted from their thoughtful progressive roots and further towards the realm of predictability with mostly forgettable riffs and melodies. The outlook became even more bleak when in late 2013 drummer Hannes Van Dahl received an offer to play with Sabotan - to which the band gave their blessing for since Evergrey was largely inactive. Guitarist Marcus Jidell who performed on the Glorious Collision
record also decided to depart. In a bind to find personnel to play two final shows that were already booked, Englund asked former longtime members Jonas Ekdahl and Henrik Danhage to briefly fill in. In a fateful turn of events, the old friends took the stage together and experienced a profound sense of catharsis and renewed energy that had been notoriously absent for some time. The obvious conclusion became that Evergrey must continue on and that this was the roster to do it with. Riding this massive wave of inspiration and positivity, the quintet wrote Hymns For the Broken
- the culmination of their entire career.
The aforementioned darker days of the band--particularly for Tom Englund--played an integral part in the creation of Hymns for the Broken
as the song themes revolve around personal growth, personal revolution, and recognizing that maybe you're not who you thought you were. It's a sincere journey of a man searching for inner truth and perspective. Sometimes angry, sometimes somber, the instrumentals are relentlessly heavy and diverse. "The Grand Collapse" is one such track that has simple piano melodies coupled with detuned chugga-chugga guitar work, and plenty of tempo changes to go with it. Best of all, the seven minute track is unconforming and follows no predictable structure. In essence, it's a clear return to a style that Evergrey found success with in the past. The increased use of piano on the album is very prevelant as well - also a characteristic the band often used in their earlier albums.
Another noticeable change is the group paying more attention to sound production this time around; whereas Glorious Collision
was unbearably flat and compressed, here the snare drum strikes in particular are powerful and assaulting, while the atmosphere is much thicker. The sound is modern and clean, but not so much that is follows the trend of being overly-processed and inorganic. Evergrey like to interweave the old with the new by having sharp contemporary guitar tones while frequently implementing simpler lead solos in the vein of past decades ("A New Dawn", for instance). It's a combination that helps the music transcend being linked to a certain era of metal. Further speaking of guitar work, there are far more solos found here than possibly on any of their past records; Henrik Danhage especially has greatly improved his chops and doesn't rely religiously on tapping anymore as his picking has substantially improved. The lead single, "King of Errors", features a minute long solo where both Englund and Danhage furiously shred their fretboards.
Evergrey have always been masters of melody, and few bands can match the intensity of their trademark heavy ballads. "Archaic Rage" is the brooding anthem on Hymns For the Broken
, again dealing with self reflection and the world as a whole. The track exemplifies passion through its use of sustaining chords, driving rhythms and catchy vocal melodies. The lyrics don't explicitly describe whom or what the subject matter is, but refraining lines like, "These shells have lost the capacity to hope and be free" and "we rise from ashes and stone 'cause who I am to you does not reflect the truth" create an eerie and quasi-somber atmosphere that is beautiful. The spoken samples continue on, "You are not alone......you will never walk this path alone....there are thousands and thousands of people just like you......"
The only significant negative aspect that requires mentioning is that Englund's vocals are continuing to decline in terms of ability. Englund is far from bad and certainly gets the job done, but it is very apparent he's beginning to wearout and cannot achieve the crispness and soaring sustain that he once could; his annunciation of words is almost slurred at times as if he's struggling. To the credit of the band, they chose not to perfect the vocals through studio magic as most others would. Lyrically and thematically, everything on the record has been at least touched upon before; so in that regard there is not much in the way of originality, but Hymns for the Broken
's strong suits really lie in the instrumental compositions and the ever-present passion in Englund's vocals.
By and large, Evergrey have done what very few others have: return from the wretched land of perpetual mediocrity to release an album that in many ways is stunning given where they've been of late. It is the culmination of their entire career and the result of everything the band has endured. They inadvertently created inspiration for themselves by continuing the project when there wasn't sufficient reason for doing so; now there is a reason. There is no magic formula for writing great music and there are always intangibles that are hard to identify when it does happen; Hymns for the Broken
has plenty of them. Evergrey took bits and pieces of what made them special in the late '90s and early 00's and forged it into a new experience that could reasonably be called their best work to date. Hymns For the Broken
is an authentic exercise in pain, darkness, power, inner growth, consciousness and resurgence.....the common threads of humanity.
"King of Errors" video