EVERGREY – Theories Of Emptiness (Album Review)

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Evergrey is a band that needs no introduction. Formed in 1995 by vocalist and guitarist Tom Englund (Redemption, Silent Skies), Evergrey’s unique brand of virtuosic melancholy has long been a staple of the progressive metal scene. Their story may have begun with the haunting release of “The Dark Discovery” in 1998, but after more than twenty-five years of ceaseless excellence, the band shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Evergrey’s modern popularity exploded following 2014’s success with “Hymns for the Broken,” and this recognition has only continued to soar as the band pressed on with a series of notable releases. For the wayward, for the souls yearning for music that truly hears their hearts, and for those seeking the comforts of delicate melodies tangled with heavy riffs, Evergrey has always delivered.

Thus Evergrey has grown in its craft, from gritty demos filled with keening laments and abrasive spoken word to songs where audiences lift each other up through swelling choral hymns and sky-splitting riffage. This enduring commitment to creative ingenuity amidst Evergrey’s hallmark melancholy comes alive in their latest release, “Theories of Emptiness.” This marks the band’s fourteenth studio album, as well as the last album to feature the talents of the band’s long-time drummer, Jonas Ekdahl. While Ekdahl will henceforth be replaced by the skillful and energetic Simen Sandnes (TEMIC), “Theories of Emptiness” is a delightful parting gift from the drummer who has been the backbone of Evergrey for nine of the band’s albums. Although his departure is bittersweet, and although Sandnes has received an undoubtedly warm welcome, it is easy to revel in the chemistry that had been nurtured over the last decade and the most stable lineup in Evergrey’s history. This chemistry and seemingly innate understanding of each musician’s strengths is one of the elements that makes “Theories of Emptiness” such a cohesive work of art.

“Theories of Emptiness” takes the inconceivable vastness of the universe and distills it into a delightfully warm, soul-stirring experience. It faces the breadth of the human experience head-on and still speaks in a way the heart can understand. Englund’s voice expertly guides listeners through dynamic highs and sorrowful lows, aided by fan-led choruses and guest vocals from both Jonas Renkse and Evergrey’s daughter. This music has the ability to take its audience from comforting nostalgia in the keyboard melodies to sharp attention at Henrik Danhage’s talented solos. This is an album that is unafraid to reach for the stars, but takes care to bring us back to earth with a sense of personal understanding in songs like “Ghost of My Hero.”

There is little doubt that this is Evergrey at the peak of both talent and passion. “Theories of Emptiness” is neither a return to form nor an explicit evolution from their modern sound: it is a love letter to the soul that makes their music so timeless. It’s a beating heart exposed, that same heart that has made the enduring “In Search of Truth,” the moving “The Inner Circle,” the triumphant “Hymns for the Broken.” Longtime Evergrey fans undoubtedly have much to love here, while new fans have incredible joy to discover. Songs like “To Become Someone Else” and “Our Way Through Silence” are instant classics in the Evergrey discography.

“Theories of Emptiness” Album Artwork

“Cold Dreams” is a track that deserves its own callout. Clearly intended to be a centerpiece – a goal that has certainly succeeded – “Cold Dreams” features vocal contributions from Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse. Not only does Renkse lend his vocal talents to this wintry blend of metallic serenading, but he offers up a rare treat: some of his first harsh vocals in many years. Aided by Englund’s daughter, Salina Englund, the three vocalists push Evergrey’s sound to its limits in this hauntingly beautiful song. Similarly exciting and worthy of mention is the anthemic “One Heart.” This track is limited to an exclusive physical release of the album, and similarly gives a sense of exciting exclusivity as it weaves its melodies.

Hymns for the Broken” undoubtedly ushered in a new era for the modern Evergrey, an era that focused on songs that would come to life vibrantly on the live stage, songs that would be primed for audiences to sing along and carry the chorus to the rafters of the venue. This was true on Evergrey’s last album, “A Heartless Portrait,” and it is true on “Theories of Emptiness.” There is that same rock-ready sound that dominates songs such as “Falling From Sun,” and the choral vocals that fill out the depths of “Misfortune.” 

Most of all, “Theories of Emptiness” is a refreshing breath of air after a veritable onslaught of Evergrey material. The band released three albums in quick succession, with “Escape of the Phoenix” in 2021, and both studio album “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)” and live album “Live: Before the Aftermath” in 2022, with an additional compilation album “From Dark Discoveries to Heartless Portraits” in 2023. For even the most ardent of fans, that’s a lot of Evergrey to try and digest. In a way, it felt like the band was chasing their early-aughts heyday, with classics like “In Search of Truth,” “Recreation Day,” and “The Inner Circle” giving way to memorable live album “A Night to Remember” in just as condensed a time frame.

Something that “Theories of Emptiness” has gained is a renewed sense of seriousness. The dark songs are unforgivingly so, even when they hunt for hope or redemption. “To Become Someone Else” opens with Englund’s voice stark over Rikard Zander’s delicate keys, and as it gives way to unrelenting shredding it seems to heave a sigh of anguish. Such an intensely pensive flavor is aided by a newfound prominence of bass and keys at the forefront of the album, even to the point they fight for dominance with Englund on tracks like “We Are the North.” As for “The Night Within,” it speaks its truth with determination, unwavering, a sense of importance that encourages rapt attention. The addition of harsh vocals and a death-tinted sound is not as aggressive as it is demandingly dynamic.

And still, Evergrey shows a sense of hunger for something new, something ambitious. They don’t need to chase the glory days of the 2000s: they are older, more experienced, and more creative than ever. “We Are the North” errs on the more experimental side of the album, playing with both soaring moments and more intense grit in the guitars. At its heart, “Theories of Emptiness” is a very heavy album, including the emotionally charged “To Become Someone Else.” This album is begging to connect with its audience, be it through the delightful melodies of “Say” or through the lingering mystery of the piano-led spoken-word closing track “A Theory of Emptiness.” There is Evergrey at its very core: charismatic darkness that still begs the listener to hunt for hope amidst endless midnight.

Evergrey has breathed new life into its long-beloved sonic proposition. It has captured the warmth and progressive charm of the band’s early sound and blended it seamlessly with the fan-forward adoration of its later career. Perhaps most importantly of all, each musician contributing has continued to push themselves to add even greater talent to the fold. Exciting, engaging, and as fresh as ever, Evergrey reaffirm their place as one of progressive metal’s most beloved and relevant acts. “Theories of Emptiness” is a love letter to what makes Evergrey so enduring, and it is an ode to the aching hearts that have long turned to their music to find meaning.  

Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: June 7th, 2024
Genre: Progressive Metal

Musicians:

  • Tom S. Englund / Vocals, guitar
  • Henrik Danhage / Guitar
  • Rikard Zander / Keyboard
  • Jonas Ekdahl / Drums
  • Johan Niemann / Bass

Theories Of Emptiness” Track List:

  1. Falling From the Sun
  2. Misfortune
  3. To Become Someone Else
  4. Say
  5. Ghost of My Hero
  6. We Are the North
  7. One Heart
  8. The Night Within
  9. Cold Dreams (Featuring Katatonia‘s Jonas Renske and Salina Englund)
  10. Our Way Through Silence
  11. A Theory of Emptiness

Order Theories Of EmptinessHERE

9.3 Excellent

Exciting, engaging, and more ambitious than ever, “Theories of Emptiness” sees Evergrey reaffirm their place as one of progressive metal’s most beloved and relevant acts. “Theories of Emptiness” is a love letter to what makes Evergrey so enduring, and it is an ode to the aching hearts that have long turned to their music to find meaning.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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