Review Summary: Arising from familiar ashes
As the years go by, I find myself increasingly detached from the formulaic music I loved so much in my youth. I still occasionally dive into nostalgia, remembering the songs and heroes of my past, but my initial enchantment with melody has been progressively replaced by an attraction to the extreme, harmonic unpredictability, or even dissonance. It is true that I was drawn to heavy metal from a very early age, but I have never felt closer to extreme music than in the last decade. I know that this aesthetic development isn't quite the norm, and I honestly don’t understand the rationale behind it, but things are as they are, and this is the man I have become. Nevertheless, despite this mutation, I will always be attracted to catchy melodies or engaging lead guitars, because at the end of the day we are what we once were. And Sweden's Evergrey is part of that niche that somehow embodies this taste for catchiness, be it through Tom S Englund's passionate vocals or through the ubiquitous melody present throughout the band's discography. The balanced blend of power and progressive metal, wrapped in a layer of gothic-ish melancholy, shapes a solid backbone that has never undergone dramatic changes over time, aside from its increasing maturity and sophistication.
The four singles that preceded the album's release confirmed to some extent what I expected from the new Evergrey chapter: a logical extension of the existing formula. This predictability surrounding Escape of the Phoenix
will only come as a surprise to those who have not been paying attention to Tom S Englund & Co's musical journey, which, as I mentioned earlier, has never experienced major detours. Now the question that really matters is whether these eleven songs are on par with what the band has been producing in recent years, and the answer is a resounding: yes. Not for featuring unexpected freshness, but rather for once again mirroring the band's ability to create catchy songs orbiting appealing melodies and melancholic nuances. From powerhouses such as 'Forever Outsider’, 'A Dandelion Cipher' and 'Eternal Nocturnal’, to softer outputs like 'The Beholder', 'In the Absence of Sun' or 'You from You', the album embraces the band's full spectrum appreciably. Englund's passionate vocals continue to lead the way and the guitar work remains top-notch. The ethereal Gilmour-ish solo on 'You from You' and the excellent duet on 'Eternal Nocturnal' are both fine examples of the lads' superb lead guitar skills.
Songs like 'Forever Outsider' or 'The Beholder' (featuring James LaBrie) are sure to please the fanbase, yet I would like to highlight 'Leaden Saints' for its epic nature and majestic chorus. It’s one of those tracks that succeeds in gathering the many faces of the band while simultaneously emanating a larger-than-life feeling. Despite loving other songs on the album, 'Leaden Saints' is nevertheless the only one that really excited me and probably the track I will revisit more often in the future. Which leads me to the conclusion that despite its consistency, Escape of the Phoenix
also reveals some predictability and lack of ambition that restrains it creatively, preventing me from enjoying it as I would like.
Tom S Englund & Co unleashed a phoenix that has risen from familiar ashes, yet this fire creature does not stand as a symbol of renewal but rather of continuity. Escape of the Phoenix
delivers a set of songs that despite their catchiness never stray too far from the original formula, and quite frankly, I didn't expect it to be any other way. At this point, Evergrey is just like a massive aircraft carrier unable to make sudden moves or drastic changes of direction. The lads are operating in auto-pilot mode and it's up to each of us to decide whether or not it's still worth embarking on this journey. As far as I’m concerned, I will remain on board, however, I would prefer the next trip to be a little more adventurous.