There is always a track or two or three on each album from Evergrey that becomes an instant favourite.
On this album at the moment, it is “Call Out The Dark”, “Midwinter Calls” and “Blindfolded”. On the previous album and depending on mood, it was either “In The Absence Of Sun” and “Eternal Nocturnal”.
The whole COVID era of 2020 and 2021 got a lot of artists off the road, back into society, connecting with family and friends and then into the studios. After the brutality of “The Atlantic” in 2019, “Escape Of The Phoenix” came out in February 2021, a live recording “Before The Aftermath” on 28 January 2022 and in May 2022, “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)”.
I have the Vinyl Die Hard edition and a separate Limited Edition box set on its way from Napalm Records in Germany, which I will unbox when they get here.
Their five album run (made up of 4 studio albums and one Live Album) on AFM Records came to an end. And what a run it was, with some of their best work like, “Hymns For The Broken” and “The Storm Within” included in that run.
The sound of the band is made up of the low tuned guitars of Henrik Danhage who uses Charvel Guitars and Tom Englund who is loyal to Caparison Guitars. But not all riffs come from the fingertips of these two. Drummer Jonas Ekdahl is a riff-meister himself and so is bassist Johan Niemann. Rounding out the band is keyboardist Rikard Zander.
The writing of “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)” continued after the release of “Escape of the Phoenix”. Englund has even referred to the new album as “Part II”. In the producers chair is, Englund and Ekdahl again. These two have been producing the last few albums, so why change it. Keep it all within the band.
A chugging downtuned metal like riff opens the album. It’s heavy and the octaves give it a sense of melody.
The fans participated in the gang like vocals.
The idea came to Englund while he was on a walk. He uses his iPhone to sing his ideas and the voice memos capture sounds pretty good as the phones have decent compression algorithm.
So they put a call out for their fans to sing the words based on a video guide the band provided into their iPhones and submit it. They got 700 plus submissions and those voices became the gang choir you hear when they say “Hey, save us”.
Lyrically, its Englund’s observation of watching people around him who feel they are not good enough to exist in this world, because they are hostages to the social media sites and feel like they need to portray perfection.
There is a slight pause.
And then the Chorus riff kicks in.
It’s my favourite part of the song.
The double kick is in unison with the riff from the fingertips of drummer Jonas Ekdahl.
This song also has a gang like vocal chant, utilising more voices from the fans. While in “Save Us” it was actual words, here it is wo-ohs.
There is this four note progression played by another four note progression that underpins the main riff. It’s almost djent math like and progressive but very accessible.
Keyboardist Rikard Zander decorates nicely here over the thunderous groove set up by drummer Ekdahl and bassist Johan Niemann.
The guitar solos howl like wolves in the night.
Actually the whole guitar solo sections are guitar hero moments. I’m pretty sure both Englund and Danhage take turns here.
Call Out the Dark
As soon as the musical box piano sound riff started I was hooked. Once the guitars thunder in and the keys turn symphonic, I was ready to break desks. My favourite song on the album. By far.
The solo came is fantastic.
It’s got this classic “Rainbow In The Dark”, Vivian Campbell style from his Dio days. Initially there was a lot of tapping and shredding from Danhage and after receiving feedback from a friend about what he was trying to say with his lead coming after Englund’s lead, he rewrote the first half and kept the crazy shred ending. Press play to hear two virtuosos having conversations musically.
And it ends the way it started, with the musical box piano riff.
The Orphean Testament
Englund’s take on Greek Mythology where Orpheus had a chance to save his loved one from hell, by just walking away and never looking back, but he turns back to look.
Englund takes this view and applies it to modern life, where our ego’s get in the way of making good decisions and how it’s hard to fit in to a world which has different ideals to your own.
The song starts with fast double kick drumming and fast 16th note picking before it moves into a Dimebag style groove riff. Englund has a unique way of singing his melodies and this is no different.
I read on other reviews that the writers saw this track as filler. And I was like WTF. Its melodic heavy rock influences still remain with me after its finished.
The intro is melodic rock, with the keyboards in the lead. The song then quietens down, Queensryche like for the verses, while it builds up in the pre-chorus for the big Chorus.
I’m broken but breathing
I’m still alive but did a lot of bleeding
I’m open to reasons to feel alive
The Great Unwashed
The intro is made up single notes playing in an ominous way. Then a groove like riff kicks in, made from the fingertips of drummer Jonas Ekdahl. While they are chugging along on that riff, Zander plays the ominous intro on the keys and Englund does his vocal melodies.
There is a section after the Chorus that reminds me of “A Change Of Season” from Dream Theater.
And the lead breaks are killer, over a section that reminds me of “The Aftermath” from “Hymns Of The Broken”.
We’ll always unite in the end
We’re stronger than most just pretend
We never mind the dark
We’re the great unwashed
Instant connection with the keyboard lick over the thundering distorting chords. The verse riffs are major key, hopeful, but the lyrics are dark, with words like “I can’t find reasons to keep feeding this soul”.
So tired of feeling
I’m tired of feeling you
And all this time that I’ve lost
I’ve lost to you
Relationships take up a lot of time and when they are over, there is regret at the time lost.
There is a section just before the 3 minute mark, with piano chords and Englund’s haunting vocal melody. Then the lead break crashes in, and I am playing air guitar.
It’s classic Evergrey.
Powerful and technical.
And there is another arena rock chorus. Press play to listen to the phrasing of “Dark nights / coming / we are lost in fragile moments / falsehood / soulless / we run through this blindfolded”.
And if all of that isn’t enough, queue in some killer lead breaks in which the guitars and the keys trade off each other.
Evergrey have always had songs like these, and Tom Englund explores these kind of sparse arrangements even further with the “Silent Skies” side project. The only difference here is that the acoustic guitars replace the keys.
If the sun fell down
And burnt us down to the ground
Would the wildfires remind me of
The album is excellent.
And there is also a trilogy of video clips, released in reverse chronological order, so you would need to watch the last video first to experience the cinematic journey.
Press play on it.