Have you ever come across a band that encompasses all we love about heavy metal, doom and progressive metal? Well, over the course of two years and two CD releases, Evergrey has become that band. While there are many bands today that claim to play metal with an attitude while incorporating melodic and symphonic elements, nobody does it better than this fine band from Sweden.
The Dark Discovery is just that; the discovery of a gem of dark metal. Released in late 1998 and produced by Andy La Rocque (guitarist of King Diamond), this was a fantastic debut for the band. The first thing that hits you upon first listen is the crunching guitar work of Tom Englund and Dan Bronell. Their tone is heavy and thick beyond belief, and a good point of reference is Dimebag Darrell from Pantera. The amazing thing, though, is that they don't beat you over the head with endless crushing riffs. Instead, melodic acoustic guitar permeates a few of the tracks and adds an atmospheric touch, which creates a varied listening experience. This technique is best put to use on track number six, "Closed Eyes," which starts off with complex rhythm guitar work that sets the heavy tone. Midway, the band changes tempo and settles into a melodic acoustic interlude before the crashing finale gets your fist pumping!
Not to say that The Dark Discovery is all about guitar work. Keyboards and the occasional choir chants add a nice progressive/gothic feel to a number of the songs. Many progressive metal bands use keyboards as a lead instrument, but here the goal is to add an epic and symphonic feel. This really works, as Evergrey is able to balance and fill out their already impressive two-guitar attack with a wall of synths that are as ominous as they are symphonic. A great example is "When the River Calls," a doomy thrash metal number that chugs along at breakneck pace, but the tremendous amount of keyboard fleshes out the sound, and adds a nice dramatic and progressive touch.
Tom Englund handles all the vocals for Evergrey, and he is a revelation. Instead of utilizing high pitched shrieks like many singers of the genre, Englund instead sings in a gruff, husky, yet melodic mid-range. Imagine Pantera's singer on that band's mellower tunes like "Cemetery Gates" or "This Love," where he showed a bit of melody and restraint, and you get the picture. These are heavy vocals, but easily understood and perfectly suited for the music. All in all, a very mature piece of music that only scratched the surface of what this band is capable of.
Solitude-Dominance-Tragedy is a monster, plain and simple. It is very rare that a band can literally blow away an impressive debut with a release of this caliber. Within the span of a year, Evergrey have refined and matured their sound, adding many new elements and cranking the musicianship up a notch. The first thing that you notice is the superior songwriting. While much of the lyrical content centers on dark themes, S.D.T. mainly deals with death and the undead. Spooky, yes, but they manage to incorporate enough melody into the music as to offset any thoughts that they wish to be a strict death metal band.
The opening track, "Solitude Within" is an extremely powerful statement, filled with complex guitar riffs, nifty keys, and a catchy chorus. Englund's yearning, emotional lyrics are quite chilling and stick with you long after the song is done; "Cold … but I don't mind the rain … fear of … being alone again." The guitar sound is excellent throughout this CD, aided by the superior production of Andy La Rocque. He has done a fine job with this band in the studio, making sure all the instruments and the vocals are easily distinguishable and crisp.
Zachary Stephens' use of piano on various songs creates a new, gentler dimension for the band. Mainly used as a way to bring in mellower interludes, Stephens' deft touch adds a nice balance to the bombast. On brutally heavy tracks such as "A Scattered Me" or "Nosferatu," his synth and piano trade lead lines with the guitars, as well as provide the right amount of symphonic backdrop. Drummer Patrick Carlsson and bassist Daniel Nojd also play an important role. Their rhythm parts are particularly tight and crisp, especially Carlsson, who at times flails away with reckless abandon, as on the fast and furious "She Speaks To The Dead." Seasoned pros like Mark Zonder or Mike Portnoy would be extremely proud.
Another attempt at progressive rock is heard on the song "Damnation," where the band utilizes violin and harp, along with keyboards, to create a lush, almost Renaissance period sound. Again, this total mood change sequence is interjected within a song that is relatively straight metal in nature. These instruments blend perfectly with the bleak lyrical content that deals with death, and adds a poignant few moments where you actually feel for this poor soul that the song centers on. This is a technique that bands like Iced Earth use from time to time.
Combining varied and offbeat instruments to create a different mood is nothing new to progressive rock, but in metal it is much more difficult. Evergrey pulls it off consistently on this CD, whether by using acoustic guitars, keyboards, or the aforementioned violin and harp. In each case these instruments are brought in to reflect the mood of the lyrics. The heavier, more aggressive musical parts fit perfectly with themes of dominance. Songs dealing with solitude start off with aggressive musical statements, before giving way to more atmospheric moments. This is to reflect how someone might feel as time goes on being alone – withdrawn, without hope, and closed in. As for tragedy, well, what is more tragic sounding than minor keys played on a piano, or acoustic guitar? All of these elements are used with great success by the band. The songwriting on most tracks is credited to the entire band, which is amazing when you think of how focused and rich these songs are. It's hard to imagine an entire band feeding many different ideas into one and having them come out so unified, and unique. Musically and lyrically, this is pretty deep stuff, and not for anyone wishing to hear about relationships or politics.
One important thing to understand in regard to these two CDs is that by no means are they a chops-fest of endless musical mayhem. The last thing the world needs is another Dream Theater wanna-be who can play endless guitar and keyboard unison solos entrenched within constant time changes. There is plenty of brilliant ensemble playing here, but it is a concerted band effort at all times. That is where Evergrey is able to get all of their power and create this wall of sound. Rarely has a band this heavy churned out music so melodic and symphonic, yet still come off unrelenting in terms of sheer brutality and aggression. That, combined with top-notch production, makes these two CDs essential listening. It's scary to think of how Evergrey can top these two, but with the tremendous promise shown on these two releases, nothing is impossible.