Thanks to multiple-day festivals such as ProgPower USA and this year's inaugural 6-Pack Weekend sponsored by Canada's Brave Word and Bloody Knuckles metal magazine, progressive metal fans in the United States can now enjoy the opportunity to catch a live gig by bands that seldom – if ever – make appearances in America. Take Evergrey, the Swedish quintet that's actually playing both gigs this year ...
The gigs mark only the fifth and sixth times the band has performed in this country in its six-year existence. Prior to now, its highest profile sets came during two previous ProgPower USA festivals. But don't refer to Evergrey as either a prog-metal band or a power-metal band around imposing singer, guitarist and mastermind Tom S. Englund. "We don't consider ourselves to be a progressive-metal band," Englund told Michael Popke from his home in Sweden shortly after the March release of the group's fourth and finest album, Recreation Day. "We are a metal band. I don't think you will ever see guys banging their heads as hard as we do."
Whether Evergrey is progressive or not remains open to debate, but Englund's certainly got the "banging heads" part right. You can add "emotion" and "passion" to the score, too. Recreation Day boils over with some of the band's heaviest (and lightest) material and, in the process, builds musical bridges between death metal, black metal, power metal, progressive metal, gothic metal "and whatever other kinds of metal there are," Englund says. His vocals take on both silky and raw characteristics, depending on the demands of a given song. For example, he growls his way through the roiling swirls of opening track "The Great Deceiver" (but without devolving into guttural vocals) and then adopts a gentler, smoky voice on the piano-drenched ballad turned gut-wrenching rocker "I'm Sorry" – actually a cover of a hit in Sweden by a Swedish female artist named Dilba. Comparing Englund's remarkable performance on Recreation Day to that of label mate Russell Allen's on Symphony X's The Odyssey wouldn't be a stretch.
Strategically incorporated throughout Evergrey's latest record are elaborate layers, mesmerizing keyboards, sultry female vocals and the Swedish Catholic Church's Mercury Choir. In fact, Recreation Day is so diverse and flexible that it's easy to let the music simply wash over you without focusing on the album's lyrical content, which can be heavier than the music. Revolving around a loose concept of death and rebirth, many of the songs on Recreation Day stem from the personal lives of the five guys in Evergrey. "The odd thing about this album is that each and every member of the band has actually lost some one close to them over the past two years," says Englund, who mourned the passing of an aunt.
While each of the 11 tracks on Recreation Day leaves its mark, three are most notable. The acoustic "Madness Caught Another Victim" (in another ProgPower-related turn of events) stemmed from an acoustic song Evergrey played at ProgPower USA in 2001 called "As Light Is Our Darkness," from the band's first album, 1998's The Dark Discovery. "It really differs from what we've done before," Englund says of "Madness Caught Another Victim." "It's not the vocal melodies I usually use. It stands out. I promised [Glenn Harveston] the promoter from ProgPower USA that I'd do an acoustic song again, only guitars and vocals. In the studio, I de-tuned the guitar into a really strange chord that I don't even remember now. I actually recorded the song in my kitchen – guitars and vocals. Same with "I'm Sorry." I have a great kitchen, but you can only take three steps into it and that's it."
"Unforgivable" is a diatribe against the Catholic Church and pedophilic priests. With biting lyrics – "No holy water can save him now/And no prayers can cleanse the lust/He used, abused and raped the trust/The innocence of a life is lost" – the song's images are also reflected in the cover art, which features altar boys, praying statues, angels, and a screaming, shirtless young boy that rips out your heart. It's a jarring and discomforting juxtaposition with the album's seemingly happy and sunny title. Englund, who responds with an adamant "hell, no" when asked if he is Catholic, says Evergrey may further explore the topic in the form of a future concept album. "They should bring back burning people at the stake for that fucking stuff," he spews.
Included on the album's limited edition is the nine-minute "Trilogy of the Damned," which originally appeared as a Japanese bonus track on 2001's In Search of Truth. "We had so many e-mail requests and demands that we put the song on the web or re-release it, because people can't afford to buy Japanese CDs for $35," Englund says. "We figured we'd put it on this time. It's piano and vocals only. The songs are "As Light Is Our Darkness," "Words Mean Nothing" and "The Shocking Truth."
Truth be told, Evergrey have never released an uninspired album. After The Dark Discovery in 1998 and Solitude Dominance Tragedy in 1999, however, Evergrey went through some lineup changes and stormed back in 2001 with its third album, In Search of Truth -- the first Evergrey title be released in North America (courtesy of InsideOut Music America). Its textured tapestry of emotions gives way to a somber and moody tale of hypnotic analysis, and it found favor with fans craving the dark underbelly of aggressive yet intelligent and thought-provoking metal.
It's hard to believe the band wrote In Search of Truth in less than two months; it's even harder to believe the music for Recreation Day came together in less than one month. "After In Search of Truth, we swore that would never happen again with Evergrey," Englund says, referring to the abbreviated time frame in which the band's breakthrough disc – at least in underground terms – was recorded. "But we had lots of gigs, and we had no songs written when it was time to go into the studio again."
Englund spent a month writing the lyrics and music for Recreation Day, with an emphasis on more guitars than on In Search of Truth. He then took nine weeks to record the album, during which time Englund often went 40 hours without sleep. "That schedule brought us to the point where we really didn't want to listen to the album much until recently," he says.
Now, though, after some of the chaos surrounding the record has died, Englund is more optimistic. "We want to keep making music people think is interesting without burning ourselves out," the newly married Englund says, adding that Evergrey is booked to play somewhere in the world every week until September. A North American tour with Symphony X this fall is also in the works.
For more info about the BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend, held June 13-14 in Cleveland, click here, and for more details about ProgPower USA, held Sept. 5-6 in Atlanta, click here.