Released By: AFM Records
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Genre: Progressive Metal
Tom S. Englund – Vocals, Guitars
Henrik Danhage – Guitars
Johan Niemann – Bass
Rikard Zander – Keyboards
Jonas Ekdahl – Drums
1. The Awakening
2. King of Errors
3. A New Dawn
4. Wake A Change
5. Archaic Rage
7. Black Undertow
8. The Fire
9. Hymns for the Broken
10. Missing You
11. The Grand Collapse
12. The Aftermath
Evergrey has long been one of my absolute favorite progressive metal bands, and over the years they have become highly regarded for their unique style of dark progressive metal that’s focused more on atmosphere and overall feeling than on complex arrangements or overly flashy instrumental sections. It seems the past few years haven’t been entirely kind to band leader Tom S. Englund, who reportedly came close to giving it up in between albums. Happily, he not only decided to keep going: He brought back a couple of familiar faces, to deliver their latest album. While some fans have been less than thrilled with their recent output, I for one am always excited when I hear they have a new album coming.
After starting their career with two slightly flawed but very promising albums, they went on a three album hot streak starting with their 2001 release In Search of Truth and ending with 2004’s The Inner Circle. This was the period where they fully defined their sound, and set themselves apart as one of the best and most unique bands in the genre, with The Inner Circle in particular being one of my personal all time favorites. Two years later, with the following album Monday Morning Apocalypse, they experimented with a more mainstream sound, including a much more polished production than they ever had before and the results were mixed. Since then they have released two more high quality albums, with the 2008 release Torn in particular feeling like it a continuation of their golden era, with just some slight twists to their sound to keep it fresh. Even with a much different lineup for 2011’s Glorious Collision, featuring only Tom and keyboardist Rickard Zander from previous albums, they delivered another very strong album with the new members doing a good job of fitting in, only to dissolve once again. Tom needed a fill in drummer and second guitarist for a recent tour, so he brought back fan favorites Henrik Danhage and Jonas Ekdahl to join himself, Rickard and returning bassist Johan Niemann, who had been with them for Glorious Collision. Long story short: The tour went so well that soon the band decided to record another album together, titled Hymns for the Broken. As soon as I saw the lineup for this new album my excitement went up, and after several listens I’m happy to report that Hymns for the Broken has easily lived up to my expectations.
Whatever difficulties and struggles the band has gone through in recent years, that all doesn’t seem to matter anymore, because on Hymns for the Broken we can hear a clearly refreshed band with the same fire and determination they had several years ago. Stylistically it feels like a logical follow up to Torn, with an overall very dark and melancholic tone to both the lyrics and music, but with very brief glimpses of hopefulness, and a slightly more laid back approach overall. Fans will instantly recognize the guitar tone, and there are some pretty crushing riffs on this album as expected, but they mostly come in quick bursts. On the whole, this is their most mellow album to date, with an entire 4 track section in the middle featuring only brief moments of heavier material. It’s the vocals, keyboards and overall atmosphere that help make these tracks as strong as they are. Even on those 4 songs, the renewed energy is still there, as the melodies are simply incredible, the brief bursts of heaviness are awesome and feel like they add just enough without dragging on, and Tom sings with as much emotion as ever.
When they do go heavy, it’s as impressive as the band has ever sounded. Equal amounts of praise for this should be given to the lineup (with Jonas and Henrik in particular sounding like they never left the band,) and producer Jacob Hansen. Normally I wouldn’t talk much about production, but I think it’s important here because be it a matter of overproduction causing an album to sound severely watered down (Monday Morning Apocalypse,) or slight underproduction causing an album to lose a bit of its power (Glorious Collision), this is something the band hadn’t quite nailed on two of their past three albums. With Hansen in charge of mixing and mastering, Hymns for the Broken sounds clearer and more powerful than any previous Evergrey album, without compromising anything.
As always, Tom S. Englund sounds amazing, and his vocals are one of the most important aspects of the album. He may not be the best singer technically, but it’s obvious he’s one of those rare singers who feels everything he sings, and as a result he always delivers some of the most powerful, and emotionally resonant vocals in metal, and this album is no exception. If anything he sounds better than he has in years, though perhaps part of that is just me being excited to hear him on a new album.
After a very dark and foreboding intro, fans are treated to the the opener “King of Errors”, which I find somewhat similar to “A Touch of Blessing” in its delivery. It’s a rather laid back mid-tempo track with a heavy focus on keyboards, but with some strong performances all around, and both the chorus and instrumental section in the middle are as good as anything the band has ever done. Next is “A New Dawn” which has more of a modern feel to it, kicking off with a very fast and aggressive, somewhat thrashy section, before giving way to the typically strong melodies and an another unforgettable chorus. The section of slower, mostly calm tracks I mentioned previously follows next, leading into “The Fire”, a very powerful and aggressive mid-tempo song which features a childrens choir at one point. The explosive main riff is perhaps the most memorable thing about it, though the chorus is spectacular as well. This and “A New Dawn” are my personal favorites on the album. The title track is slightly heavier than the middle section but still fairly calm and mellow, somewhat similar to the title track of Torn.
The most surprising tracks both come at the end. “The Grand Collapse” is their longest song to date, and it’s also perhaps their bleakest and most devastating. Roughly half of the song is instrumental, and it features some very crushing riffs and very depressing keyboards. One strength of this band has always been their ability to make you feel emotions just with the notes they play, and this song in particular really demonstrates that, though the album on the whole does as well. In comparison, “The Aftermath” certainly lives up to its name. It’s a very soft, mostly acoustic track once again containing long instrumental sections.
Overall, Hymns for the Broken is yet another exceptional album from one of the best, most unique progressive metal bands in the world. It’s perhaps a bit mellower and more laid back than some fans may expect, but it still contains all the elements that have made past Evergrey albums so unforgettable, while also sounding fresher than their past few albums. Longtime fans are almost guaranteed to be satisfied, and anyone looking for some unique, dark melodic prog is highly recommended to check this out. I wouldn’t quite rank it as high as the Inner Circle, but it joins In Search of Truth, Recreation Day and Torn as being just a slight step behind that masterpiece.
Written by Travis