Album Title: The Atlantic
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 25 January 2019
Many of you will be aware that since the beginning of 2019, I haven’t written a single review up to this point. I apologise for that. However, there are a few reasons. Firstly, my head has not really been in the right place. Secondly, neither has my heart. That can happen when your life turns upside down. But arguably the biggest reason is because one album has got in the way of all others. Since receiving a promo copy of ‘The Atlantic’ by Evergrey, I have hardly been able to listen to anything else.
You don’t need me to tell you for the one millionth time that Evergrey are my favourite band on the planet. You already know this, because I have made it abundantly clear over the years. For those of you who are in a rush, let me put this as succinctly as I possibly can: ‘The Atlantic’ only serves to reinforce my love and admiration for this incredible band because it is a ridiculously good record, dare I say it, possibly their best ever.
What is so remarkable is that the Swedes have managed to make my indestructible bond even more unbreakable with ‘The Atlantic’. I’m not one to focus on the lyrics of a record, but on this occasion, it is the only place for me to start.
Those who have read my interview with Tom and Jonas will know that ‘The Atlantic’ is a deeply personal album for Tom, who has used this record to explore the break-up of his marriage. The clues are all there, but it wasn’t until we sat down and he admitted it to me that I realised that this was the overriding theme to the record. And if you read my interview, you’ll also know that I have recently gone through the exact same thing. To be more accurate, I am still going through it as I type.
So, not only are Evergrey the most important band to me, they have also provided a shockingly apt and relevant soundtrack to accompany the second-worst period of my life, beaten only by the death of my younger brother a decade ago. I make no secret of the fact that I am hurting and that every day of my life at the moment is a struggle. If it was just a break-up, it might not be so bad. But I have two small girls and have been thrust into a position I never wanted and would have fought until my last breath to avoid. But circumstances dictated that I had no choice. It may be that, in time, I realise that this was the right decision because I haven’t been truly happy for years. But I’m not thinking of me, I’m thinking of my little girls.
It has all meant that I have spent the last two-and-a-half-months listening to ‘The Atlantic’ like it is a lifeline, a crutch, a friend, a source of extreme comfort in a world of extreme turbulence. But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t always been easy. Many a time I have listened through the haze of uncontrollable tears and a fog of indecision, hatred, anger and fear. But I realise that much of this has to do with the power of the music and the incredibly heartfelt lyrics sung by the greatest vocalist I have ever heard. Ultimately, the experience is rewarding and hugely cathartic. Do I feel better for listening to this record? You bet your life I do.
But enough about me and my travails, as important as they are to add necessary context to this review. Let’s delve into the world of ‘The Atlantic’ and what it has to offer us.
The first thing to say is that it is a crushingly heavy album. The guitars of Tom Englund and Henrik Danhage are simply monstrous, delivering pulverising riffs but with an intelligence that prevents the material from plunging into the abyss of being heavy for the sake of it. As such, the bulldozing riffs are littered with emotive lead breaks, quieter passages and plenty of clever restraint, used wisely to add more weight to the heaviness when it returns.
Then there’s the bass of Johan Niemann. ‘Phenomenal’ is the only word that comes close to doing his performance justice. And what is so wonderful on ‘The Atlantic’ is the way that his playing has been pushed to the front of the mix, so that it can be heard and fully enjoyed. On occasion, it actually becomes the most prominent instrument and rightly so.
An Evergrey album wouldn’t be complete without the thunderous rhythms of drummer Jonas Ekdahl, who takes his performance to a new level here, clearly challenging himself and obviously relishing it. And speaking of challenging themselves, that brings me to keyboardist Rikard Zander. Alongside his deft and emotional tinkling melodies and swathes of atmospheric synths, there is an abundance of experimentation, from more modern and bold tones, to flamboyant lead breaks that rival the guitarists for superiority. It leads me to wonder whether the rest of the band spiked Rikard’s drinks before each recording session. But it works; everything works.
For someone who considers ‘In Search of Truth’ the greatest album of all time, it says something when I happily declare that the opening trio of songs on this disc are three of the bands’ best ever. Truly world class, they simply leave me speechless and in awe.
Many point to ‘Weightless’ as their favourite track on ‘The Atlantic’ but I have to buck this trend. ‘Weightless’ is indeed a brilliant track and is one of the ‘holy trinity’ that opens up this record. It has a ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ veneer thanks to the crunchy, bold riffs and no-nonsense attitude. But there’s a much more pronounced progressive intent, particularly from the half-way point where the track changes tack slightly, into a more meandering instrumental environment. And the chorus too, is undeniably catchy and intense thanks to some brutally honest lyrics. It is both dark and laced with a certain defiance, a kind of steely determination that Tom can deliver so well.
For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius. It kicks off in doom metal fashion, with an ominous and impossibly heavy delivery. The riff is subtly progressive in that it doesn’t quite conform to a simple four-four beat (I think) but still manages to get the head moving. Then, as the chorus enters, so do Rikard’s tinkling ivories before the intensity builds into the bridge. And then, in comes the chorus.
“It’s All I have,
It’s all I have,
All I have,
All I own that I can give to you”
On paper, it doesn’t seem much but the way that Tom belts out the words with more feeling than I can describe, sends shivers down my spine, especially when coupled with a truly beautiful and simple melody. It is one of the best choruses I have ever heard and after nearly three months, none of the magic wanes.
The lead guitar solos take over at this point with a majesty all of their own and the pleading, mournful notes that soar over a reprise of the chorus melody send my head into a spin. More often than not, I get shivers coursing up and down my spine and the tears come unbidden to cascade down my cheeks. I realise, much like Tom, that regardless of perceptions to the contrary, I gave all I had to my relationship but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
You can always tell when Evergrey are firing on all cylinders, with one such indicator being the opening track to an album. In the past, we’ve had ‘The Masterplan’, ‘A Touch Of Blessing’ and ‘King Of Errors’ – all killer opening salvos. And with ‘The Atlantic’, we have the stupendous ‘The Silent Arc’.
Starting slowly and ominously with the quiet sound of a sonar ping, the near eight-minute behemoth soon erupts in a flurry of heavy riffing and expansive percussion before settling down into a roiling, churning mid-paced stomp. The doom-like influences are never far away as the pace slows to allow the keys to come more to the fore.
For me, the best part has to be the monumental chorus which is instantly breath-taking in its majesty and surprising simplicity, crowned by the imperious Englund. Those familiar lead guitar melodies and lead solos crop up just enough, before the song deviates from its path, to deliver some ‘In Search of Truth’ or ‘The Inner Circle’ style voiceovers. The brooding darkness that floods the song in the latter stages is marvellous, as is the pleading, wailing lead solo that acts as something of a release from the suffocating atmosphere. Simply wonderful.
I may have banged on about the opening three tracks far too much, but the more I listen to ‘The Atlantic’, the more impossible it becomes to ignore the other seven compositions. Each one delivers something exciting, vital, energetic, catchy, heavy and full of emotion and atmosphere.
On the subject of emotion, look no further than the album’s slight curveball, the immense ‘Departure’. Featuring some of the most heartbreakingly honest lyrics anywhere on the record, the song features acoustic guitars and at one particular point, a vibe that is US arena rock at its best. It is also a song that feels much more organic and ‘simple’ if that’s the right word, with the front-and-centre bass of Johan Niemann simply jaw-droppingly good. Alongside his four-string side-kick, Englund is able to let his voice steal the limelight and pour his heart and soul into a desperately personal affair. In some ways, you feel awkward for listening in. In other ways, it acts as an emotional rollercoaster once again for me in my current plight.
If you’re looking for heavy and intense tracks however, you’re in luck because the remainder, all bar the minute-long palette-cleanser ‘The Tidal’, all take great delight in slaying the listener whilst retaining that sense of melody and progressive intent.
The emerging riff within ‘A Secret Atlantis’ has a ‘Mark of the Triangle’ feel to it, in the way that it lurches slightly off-kilter, getting the head nodding purposefully. The chorus that emerges out of almost nowhere is a beast, with more than a hint of ‘Fragments’ about it thanks to the down-tuned rumble that lies at its heart. There’s even room for a Rikard Zander synth solo, as the song really underlines the progressive intent that remains within the core Evergrey sound. Every track on this record does something to make you sit up and think, something that takes it out of the run-of-the-mill heavy melodic template that so many others are intent on following.
‘End of Silence’ features a delicious chugging riff overlaid by swathes of classic atmospheric keys and more modern electronic textures. The guitars drop out to let piano, synth and voice work their magic and it is after about the fifteenth spin that I realise just how powerful this song really is. If there’s a moment of euphoria to be heard, it’s within the bittersweet chorus that I find myself singing pretty much more than any other. Plus, I love the synth solo that segues into a glorious finger-tapping guitar solo.
The emotion is ramped up a notch within ‘Currents’, as the lyrics make a real impact.
Come save me from these waters,
These waves to tall for me,
They’ll bury me in silence,
The currents forcing me to sea.”
Cleverly, just like the strong currents about which Tom sings, there’s a real energy to the song, that pulls the listener into its clutches from which there is no escape. You hear it, you love it.
And that just leaves the final two tracks, ‘The Beacon’ and ‘This Ocean’. The former opens to the sounds of waves caressing the shore, joined by an absorbing synth tone and more classic voiceovers. The ‘classic Evergrey’ sound continues via the unashamedly brilliant combination of strong riffing, bold rhythms, prominent keys and Englund’s irresistible vocal delivery, topped off by yet another memorable chorus. The latter closes the album in a fittingly confrontational manner, a way of Tom and the guys signalling that they are to strong and too determined to ever contemplate failing. The lyrics are somewhat bittersweet but from the strong, heavy and uncompromising tone of the final churning and swirling notes that descend into the darkness, I strangely feel uplifted.
And so another Evergrey album comes to an end. Only, it isn’t just another Evergrey album. This is ‘The Atlantic’, arguably the very best of their career. As I write this conclusion, I remain undecided about the future and whether I will carry on reviewing albums. I don’t want this to be the end, but the head and heart are conspiring against me right now. If it is the end, how fitting that this is the last record. Because I say this now without any fear of being proved wrong: ‘The Atlantic’ will not be beaten in 2019. It is utter, unequivocal and peerless genius. Over and out.
The Score of Much Metal: 100%
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years right here: