Issue 2004-031: Evergrey - The Inner Circle - Round Table Review
Tracklist: A Touch Of Blessing (5:47), Ambassador (4:29), In The Wake Of The Weary (4:44), Harmless Wishes (4:19), Waking Up Blind (4:22), More Than Ever (4:13), The Essence Of Conviction (6:07), Where All Good Sleep (4:37), Faith Restored (3:54), When The Walls Go Down (5:39)
Every so often you come across a band in the wilderness of the metal underground, that after just one listen, you know will eventually hack their way into the view of everyone. That was my instinct when I first came across a young band from Gothenburg called Evergrey.
There are so many paint-music-by-numbers releases nowadays, it's hard to find a genuinely unique band. One that doesn't just mimic the brand leaders of a particular style. Evergrey's debut album The Dark Discovery offered something truly different. I've reviewed all three of the albums that followed and have never once been able to resort to the term: 'They sound like....'
Built on solid and very heavy metal foundations, Evergrey add intelligent lyrics, a delicate use of progression, a definite gothic vibe and above all, the multi-dimensional and simply stunning voice of Tom S. Englund.
Six years into their career and The Inner Circle manages the contradiction of being the band's most restrained and yet most intense release to date. Let me make this clear - this is a very deep album. Not 'deep' in the sense that it takes half a dozen listens to like it. No way. The vocals and instrumental hooks on tracks like Where All Good Sleep and Harmless Wishes make this easily the band's most melodic package.
I mean 'deep' in the sense that to fully appreciate this album, like a good whisky, you have to give it time to mature. It unfolds its beauty and its anger slowly, layer by layer, listen by listen. It's a tantalising pleasure - that like the perfect date, keeps you coming back for more.
Take the opening track - A Touch of Blessing. Drawn in my a strangely haunting caressed guitar, the listener is confronted by Tom's voice - as clear as if he was standing next to you. 'Drowning in Betrayal's River' he says - his tone exposed, shakey, yet smooth. A keyboard then growls slowly behind before we launch into a typical Evergrey rolling, neck-swinging riff and enter the song proper. On its own, this is probably the band's best ever composition - no mean feat considering the strength of their back catalogue.
The Inner Circle is a concept album that voices pained anger at those who abuse children behind the cloak of religion. I always like a band that isn't afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and tackle difficult issues. But if you're not so inclined then all the songs easily stand on their own two feet. Albeit, with lines such as: 'Can't stop what he's been told - she's three years old' it's hard to miss the point they're making.
With Recreation Day the band said it wanted to have an album with the guitars to the fore. Here it's the turn of the vocals to take the spotlight. Certainly sounding different than before, Englund delivers a sensational performance - from pained, heart-wrenching agony to bitter aggression - he is one of the premier vocalists on the scene today. That's not to say the guitars have gone AWOL - Henrik Denhage contributes some striking solos including a great bluesy run on Waking Up Blind.
That's not to say it's all perfect. The use of two ballads in the nine vocal tracks interrupts the flow a little too much. Thanks mainly to Tom's vocals, Evergrey are very good at this. But it is far more effective when they use light and shade within a track as opposed to a whole song. The flow is also hindered by the overuse of faded endings and I feel the keys of Rikard Zander - which play an important part in the band's unique sound, could have been higher in the mix.
The songs on the second half of the album don't quite match the opening onslaught. They don't have the same depth and a couple don't develop very far from the chorus'. But then that could be seen as a plus point for many fans.
Interest in the band is currently rising with an impressive head of steam. Recreation Day doubled its sales thanks to some heavy exposure on MTV. The band was recently nominated for a Grammy in their home country; they've just completed a major US tour with Iced Earth and Children of Bodum and now, you will get the chance to see them live when they appear at the mighty Bloodstock Festival.
It's been a long, hard trek since Evergrey began their Dark Discovery in 1998. But with The Inner Circle, the Swedish Kings of Morose Metal are certain to receive the international acclaim due to them.
Sweden's best prog metal band Evergrey finally release their fifth album called The Inner Circle, and without any doubt I can say that this is their best album ever. In their own studio, and with a new drummer, Tom Englund and Henrik Danhage once took again on production duties for this album, and the end result is the best sounding Evergrey album to this date. The Inner Circle is filled with dark aggressive vibes, staccato styled guitar riffing, piano-laden keyboards, layers of guitars, gloomy atmospheres, vocal harmonies, excellent arrangements and superb musicianship of all the five members of the band. Especially the vocals of Tom, the frontman who possesses a rasp and silky smooth finesse of a voice, are heavenly, like for example, in the emotional dreamy ballad Waking Up Blind.
The Inner Circle is also a concept album and Tom Englund says about this: "On the last album (Recreation Day) we did a song called Unforgivable, and that thought stayed with me. It was about people abusing children, then hiding behind their religion, or whatever, to get away from the law. It's despicable. It makes me so mad, like I could kill someone. Seriously. We actually thought about doing this concept for the last record, but there was too little time, to really get into the subject. We don't want to accuse someone, without knowing what we're talking about This is not about Christianity, it is about bashing fanatics, people who try to convince others to their way of thinking. Society today wants someone to tell them how/what to think. Our concert T-shirts are going to say: I am my own God, God walking."
Back to the music I would like to point out the definite highlights of this CD, which are: A Touch Of Blessing, In the Wake of the Weary and When the Walls go Down. Especially the opener is the best Evergrey song ever, a very emotional prog metal track filled with heavenly guitar melodies, matchless dramatic vocals and a real - can't get it out of your head - catchy chorus. The second highlight is In the Wake of the Weary, a song with a rather dark and mysterious atmosphere, beautiful keyboardpassages and you have to check out the last two minutes of this song for yourself; dazzling!! When the Walls go Down is the last track and maybe also the "weirdest" one. It is Evergrey's first "pure" instrumental song and features a quiet piano intro followed by narrated vocals and heavenly strings. Later on the guitar riffs come bashing in and the song has a real heavy ending, which almost blew my mind away. It cannot get any better than this; this is prog metal like it should be. I am sure that this album will be in my prog metal top five list of 2004. You really should not miss out on this one!!!
Recreation Day, the previous album of Evergrey, was well received and highly ranked, so expectations for this album were very high. From the moment I got it it has been in my CD player, but then I received another album (soon to be reviewed) that made The Inner Circle lose it's hotspot. This album is indeed good but without beating around the bush: I thought Evergrey's previous album, Recreation Day was much better and I think that I would also rank In Search Of Truth a little higher. Conclusion on forehand: this is not Evergrey's best album.
There are a number of reasons however that make this album worthwhile, the most important one being: A Touch Of Blessing. This track might well be the best Evergrey ever did! Superb build up: From silence the guitar volume swells, the voice of Tom Englund, and the well known Evergrey guitar sound. Throughout the album all songs contain snippets of someone preaching and I couldn't really figure out the meaning of it. I have been told that it deals with people hiding behind their religion.
Maybe the song Waking Up Blind is best illustration as to why this album is no match to Recreation Day. At first this track needed some getting used to but even after that I still find it is just too long-winded. This track would not have fit on Recreation Day, that album was much too energy packed, and even the ballads on that album sounded strong. But do not be fooled by my gloomy and negative talk - I like this album a lot! I would have been cheering if any other (new) band had released this album, but, hey, this is Evergrey: they have to meet a higher standard. There's enough of their power guitars, superb compositions and screaming guitars to satisfy me and I think more people will like this album.
The cover artwork is of former DPRP team member Mattias Noren. I just realised a couple of weeks ago how much of his work is in my CD collection. Have a look at his site and count your Mattias Noren CD's - you might be suprised!
So my final conclusion on this album: If you are a prog metal fan and have not heard Evergrey yet: (then shame on you!) then I think Recreation Day is a much better introduction to this band. If you are a Evergrey fan, just buy this album, you won't regret it.
My first contact with Evergrey was the In Search Of Truth album. It was this CD which really lead to them being touted as one of the leading progressive metal outfits around. However, my own feelings were rather mixed – the album boasted some excellent tracks (Rulers Of The Mind, Watching The Skies, Dark Waters), yet as a whole I found it an inconsistent and therefore somewhat frustrating listen. Two albums down the line, and I was interested to hear if improvements had been made on The Inner Circle …
I should say that in theory Evergrey boast all the things I like most about progressive metal – sharp, incisive riffs, excellent symphonic synths, fine (and controlled) soloing, the ability to evoke plenty of atmosphere, and in Tom Englund (band leader and sole original member) they have a fine and versatile lead singer – whilst his standard delivery reminds me of ex-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin, he has a versatile range, from a gruff, dark delivery to a soulful croon.
However, on first listen this album was a severe disappointment – it wasn’t until the irresistible riff of More Than Ever that anything really registered, and that was six tracks in. If I had written the review at this point, it would not have been overly complimentary.
Thankfully I’ve learnt not to judge albums on first hearing, and repeated listens have shown the album to be a stronger effort than it initially appears to be. The band go for plenty of variety over the course of The Inner Circle, and the majority of these different styles work. Opener A Touch Of Blessing, which on first listen seemed as bland as anything the band have penned, reveals itself to be a classy track with a strong symphonic feel and an anthemic chorus, and will doubtless work well live; Ambassador showcases the heavier side of the band, with a crushing lead riff, rather menacing backing vocals and a fairly dark feel, whilst Waking Up Blind is a fine ballad which manages to be effective without going overboard on the bombast, and showcases Englund’s range to good effect.
The album is a concept, based around religious fanaticism, and it is fair to say that the lyrics make far more interesting reading than the usual clichéd stuff bands of this ilk come up with. I was however slightly surprised that given the dark nature of the subject being covered, the music as a whole seems a little lighter and more accessible than on previous outings – I think that a slightly darker approach would have complimented the lyrics better.
Ultimately, I’ve got to say that, whilst this is definitely a good album, I don’t find it to be a great one. The songs are generally strong, and the album is more consistent than In Search Of Truth, but it doesn’t have the highlights of that album. In addition, things seems to peter out towards the end – Faith Restored feels like a pale retread of Waking Up Blind, whilst When The Walls Go Down is a rather superfluous instrumental, padded out with sampled voices of various ranting religious figures (these samples are overused throughout the album, in my opinion.)
In conclusion, I feel that the album just lacks that ‘x factor’ which separates the scene leaders and the chasing pack. I have no doubt that Evergrey do have a classic in them, but frankly this isn’t it. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing them live later in the year, where I feel a lot of the material will actually come over better than it does on disc.
Read Andy Read's Interview with Evergrey in our Specials Section!