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Tuesday 23 February 2021

Reviews: Evergrey, Architects, Korpse, 16 & Grime (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Liam True, Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Evergrey - Escape Of The Phoenix (AFM Records) [Richard Oliver]

There are some albums you review where there is a fine line between reviewing an album and fawning over it. That is very much the case with Escape Of The Phoenix which is the new album from Swedish dark melodic metallers Evergrey. I’ll be upfront that I am a massive fan of Evergrey or as our editor puts it “worship at the altar of Englund”. Evergrey are an astounding band that have been going 26 years and despite the sheer amount of amazing albums the band have released I feel they are a band that have never got the recognition that they rightly deserve especially over here in the UK.

For those of you who are in the dark about Evergrey they formed in 1995 and have released a total of eleven studio albums with Escape Of The Phoenix being the twelfth from the band. Despite being very much in a progressive power metal style, Evergrey very much veer into the darker side of things both in their lyrical content, imagery and musical tone. This is a band that is as similar to bands such as Anathema, Paradise Lost and Katatonia as they are to other prog-power bands like Symphony X, Kamelot and DGM. The band had a bit of a wobble around 2010 which saw a mix of poorly received albums and unstable line ups but in 2014 former guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl returned to the band and helped usher in a new era for Evergrey. The band released a trilogy of albums - Hymns Of The Broken, The Storm Within and The Atlantic - which saw frontman Thomas Englund confronting issues in his personal life which were very much carried over into the music resulting in some of the most emotionally heavy and darkest albums in the Evergrey discography. They also happened to be some of the strongest albums the band has ever released which begged the question where would Evergrey go next? Thankfully the answer is very much up.

Escape Of The Phoenix is an album which sees Evergrey in absolutely blistering form. The darkness and melancholy which is synonymous with Evergrey is very much there but mixed in is a passion, energy and a glimmer of hope. Instead of a moody, atmospheric and scene-setting opening which is usually the case with the start of an Evergrey album we instead get the punch to the chops which is Forever Outsider. A punchy, heavy and energetic song to get the album going and it certainly shows that Evergrey means business with this album. It is followed by the single Where August Mourns which whilst a slow builder of a song it will find its way buried into your subconscious for hours to come after you have heard it. The album as a whole is a nice mix of heavier and more energetic songs such as Dandelion Cipher, the title track and the absolutely fantastic Eternal Nocturnal (which has to be one of the best songs the band has ever written) as well as gentle, emotional and melancholic songs like Stories, In The Absence Of Sun and You From You

Thomas Englund is one of the best singers in metal and he absolutely shines on this album. His soulful and impassioned vocal performance had my arm hairs standing on end for pretty much the entire duration of the album. We also get a guest vocal spot from James Labrie of Dream Theater on the song The Beholder and whilst James Labrie isn’t one of my favourite vocalists he and Tom Englund work together magnificently on this song. As well as an incredible vocal performance we also see some mighty fine guitar work from Thomas Englund with some great riffs and fantastic lead guitar work. Talking of fantastic lead guitar work we have to talk about Henrik Danhage who absolutely slays on this record. He is one of the most unrivalled lead guitarists in metal in my humble opinion with not only a killer tone but his solos really take you on an emotional journey. The keyboard work from Rikard Zander adds depth to these songs with it being more electronic sounds or beautiful piano melodies whilst bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl put in powerhouse performances.

Although I absolutely loved the last few albums that Evergrey have put out and didn’t think they could get any better the band really have gone for it here and it does feel like a big step up. It sees the band sound more enthusiastic and impassioned than ever and whilst the darkness is very much prevalent in the music there is a huge feeling of hope in these songs. This feels like Evergrey telling us there is light at the end of the tunnel and I think that is just the sort of thing we all need to feel right now. Escape Of The Phoenix should go down to be one of the best received albums in the bands discography as there is not a weak song to be found here. As soon as it had finished I wanted to listen to the whole album again and if that’s not the sign of a good album then I don’t know what it. I may be coming from a slight bias here being an Evergrey fanboy but there’s no denying that this is a phenomenal record and a very serious contender for album of the year. 10/10

Architects – For Those That Wish To Exist (Epitaph Records) [Liam True]

When Architects dropped lead single Animals back in October, I have to say, I was pretty underwhelmed by it. The band made it clear that they were going to go slightly more melodic, so it wasn’t a surprise that they did that. But even with the knowledge of this I was put off the song. Now the album is here and I can safely say that any negative emotions I had toward the record has been well and truly squashed. The band have their signature sound (Minus the ‘Bleghs’ made famous by Sam Carter himself) but it’s an absolute treasure trove of an album that surpasses their previous work. Starting with intro Do You Dream Of Armageddon?, Carter soothes you in with his cleans with a background of orchestral movements and programmed beats combined to make it feel almost like a movie trailer and not an album introduction. 

As the band launches into Black Lungs, you’ll understand by what I mean when I said all my worries were squashed by the crunch of the heavy guitars of Josh Middleton & Adam Christianson. And when you think they’re going too light for you, they slam back down with their signature crushing breakdowns. Giving Blood is a catchy number with the wailing guitar noises emitted and the technical drum work of Dan Searle and Alex Dean’s bass work take charge as they go together in harmony with Carter hooking you with the chorus. Discourse Is Dead & Dead Butterflies give more of the melodic-heavy mix the band is known for. Impermanence is your first taste of their collaborative efforts as Parkway Drives own noise box Winston McCall lends his screeches to an already heavy scream fest which is made even more heavier with McCalls added growls. Flight Without Feathers & Littler Wonder, the latter featuring the voice of Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr is an interesting combination as they blend together perfectly and add a techno background to it which adds to the intensity the two voices bring. Animals is a song I wasn’t looking forward to listen too as I wasn’t happy with the single, but it would be rude not to give it another chance. 

On its own it’s not a song I enjoy. However, when you listen to the album all the way through, Animals actually fits in as the missing puzzle piece and is an absolute unit of a song that knocks down the misconceptions I had about it. Goliath adds the vocals of Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, an odd choice for the Metalcore act to recruit. But Neil actually proves his capabilities by matching the screams of Carter to give his own vocal take which sounds absolutely vile and shows his vocal range extremely well. Demi God & Meteor are two unrelenting songs with the soft signature touch while album ender Dying Is Absolutely Safe touches more along the slower toned down side of the band which is backed by acoustic guitars and a choir singing you off the album. 

Architects are a band that took me a while to actually get into, and despite seeing them live in 2017, I never did when they were breaking through and being the only Metalcore band to headline Wembley arena. Since then they’ve only grown in the scene and have become one of the biggest bands to hail from the UK since Bullet For My Valentine. And with FTTWTE they’ve become one of, if not, the biggest band of the past decade. 10/10

Korpse - Insufferable Violence (Unique Leader) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 2013 by drummer Marten van Kruijssen in 2013 together with vocalist Sven van Dijk, guitarist Floor van Kuijk and bassist Robin van Rijswijk, Korpse is a death metal outfit from the Netherlands. Insufferable Violence is their third album and comes five years after sophomore Unethical.

Let’s not waste words here. This is brutal. Crammed full of heavy slamming breakdowns, grinding speed, indecipherable vocals and some of the harshest guitar work I’ve heard for years, Korpse have made this album is a damned uncomfortable listen. The opening track P.T.S.D. features a range of sound clips which I assume are from traumatised soldiers. It’s harrowing stuff but only a prelude to the sheer assault that explodes on the title track that follows. If you were to create the musical equivalent of a tornado, this would surely be it. If there is a heavier release this year, then I’d question whether I could cope with it. Insufferable Violence is a blitzkrieg of aural damage. The songs are generally short, around 3-4 minutes on average, but the sheer velocity with which they bludgeon is terrifying. 

Underneath it all, the band are tackling social commentary about the dark side of humanity. It’s hard to decipher without any lyrics but the grinding speed and intensity ensure that you are too busy hanging on to worry too much about meanings. Disposable Under Age Objects leaves little to the imagination, as does Molestation Condonation. But it’s the sheer battery of power that does the damage here. Punishing, aggressive and without doubt technically impressive, Insufferable Violence should leave you reeling. It does. 7/10

16 & Grime - Doom Sessions Vol. 3 (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

As the title suggests, this is the third split album from the Doom Sessions, this time featuring sludge legends 16, and slightly newer sludge noise makers Grime. 16 have been making harsh and heavy music since 1991, the band did have a 3 year break from 2004 to 2007 and are one of the main bands credited with defining Sludge. 16, who are based in Los Angeles have released 8 albums in their career so far. 16 get the first 3 tracks on this split album; Tear It Down, Death On Repeat and Nachzehrer. The style on these 3 tracks is probably closer to strait Doom than the Grime half of this album, with huge and heavy riffs that are slow but have a fantastic innate groove. The vocals are mainly harsh, but there are clean gang vocals that work very well. 

The tracks have a fairly relaxed tempo to the grooves, but second track Death On Repeat does kick the pace up a bit, and has a very pleasing fast ending. Grime are comparatively young upstarts compared to the band they are sharing this album with, they have been going since 2010 and in that time have made 2 albums in that time; Deteriorate in 2013 and Circle Of Molesters in 2015. The band are based in Trieste, Italy. Grime are on the more extreme end of the sludge market, the two tracks that they get on this split; Piece Of Flesh and Sick Of Life mix monolithically slow and heavy riffs with fast and savage hardcore that verges on Grindcore. 

The production on the Grime tracks is overtly revolting as well, with an extremely nasty guitar sound and very aggressive and vicious vocals. Doom Sessions Vol 3 is an enjoyable split, the two bands, although fairly different in style definitely compliment each other. The album is quite short at only 26 minutes, but there are plenty if great riffs to keep the listener happy. 7/10

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