Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) – Album Review

Artist: Evergrey

Album Title: A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

Label: Napalm Records

Date of Release: 20 May 2022

I have thought long and hard about how I should approach this review. I take pride in the fact that I give my reviews 100% honesty, and score albums accordingly. I would hope that everyone who reads my reviews will acknowledge this, because integrity is very important to me. Without integrity, we are nothing. Without honesty, we are nothing. And yet, my impartiality has been called into question when it comes to Evergrey. Most of it is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, but other readers have suggested that I am biased when it comes to my reviews for Evergrey, because I have given the band perfect 100% scores for their past few records. Well, you know what? Sod them. I rarely say things like this, but I feel that it is required on this occasion in order to get over to everyone the strength of my feeling on this matter.

Let me now explain in more measured terms why I feel so angry about these accusations. If you’ve read a number of my reviews at manofmuchmetal.com over the past few years, you’ll know that I have had a number of personal issues that have affected me. I’m no different to many of you reading this in that respect. I stress that I am clearly not the only person to suffer personal problems, and many of you will have suffered far worse. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment; it is merely important context.

Since I started writing music reviews over 17 years ago, I have lost my younger brother, I have had to face not having my children with me in my home 100% of the time due to a relationship break-up. I have suffered further heartbreak since, by losing my ‘forever’ person, something that has pushed me very close to the edge. But I am still here. Why? Because I have wonderful family, and I have some good friends, even if I do my best to push them away all the time. And then, there’s music. Music provides me with strength, comfort, and company when I am alone. We all have our favourite bands, and mine is Evergrey.

The Swedish band have been an integral part of my life for over two decades, providing the soundtrack to accompany many of my best and worst moments in life. I owe this band a debt bigger than they’ll ever know, because I always turn to their music when I’m at my worst and need to be reminded of the beauty in life, and when I need to be reminded of the strength of the human spirit. Many of Evergrey’s songs touch on matters so close to my heart, and they explore these subjects in a way that no other band does. The power, the melodies, the darkness, the light, the honesty; they touch me like no other band does, allowing me to tap deep into my own feelings in a truly cathartic manner.

So, naturally, when I am presented with new material by this band, I listen. I listen carefully, closely, and with an open mind and heart. Over their career, I’ve not loved everything blindly. There are songs that I like better than others, and there are albums that I like better than others. That’s to be entirely expected. The problem for me though, as a reviewer, is that Evergrey have been on one of the longest purple patches ever. Every one of their albums since the release of ‘Hymns For The Broken’ in 2014 has brought with it, in my opinion, a touch of magic. I can honestly say that there is not one single song that they have recorded since the release of that album that I have disliked. Not one. And when the subject matter has spoken so eloquently to me throughout this period, and accompanied various significant highs and lows in my life, it makes the experience all the more powerful.

And that’s why I’m angry. Because Evergrey NEVER let me down and given the enjoyment, strength and sheer joy their music provides, how could I possibly give them a score of less than 100%? It’s not because I have blinkers on, it isn’t because of a misplaced loyalty. It is because, as far as my subjective opinion is concerned, their music deserves it. Simple. Of course, you may disagree, but hey, music is subjective, and we’re all allowed to have different opinions. But don’t you dare tell me that I’m being biased, because if they were to release another ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ or their own equivalent of ‘St. Anger’, I’d call them out. But they haven’t, and with ‘The Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’, the thirteenth full-length album of their career, they’ve done it again and released another masterpiece.

For once in my life, I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow, song-by-song description of the album, because I want to focus on a handful of the songs in a little more detail. But suffice to say that from the opening moments of the call-to-arms, anthemic ‘Save Us’, complete with the inclusion of fans voices for extra gravitas, to the final gentle acoustic guitar and bass notes of ‘Wildfires’, there is not one single thing I would want to change on ‘A Heartless Portrait’; to me, it is another slice of dark, melodic, progressive metal perfection.

However, the only place to start for me, is the gargantuan ‘Ominous’, which sits at position number three on this album. It starts slowly, with muffled guitars getting louder in the mix, eventually joined by Tom Englund’s instantly recognisable voice. And if you thought the guy couldn’t get any better with his vocal delivery, just take a listen to the first minute or so of this monster. The emotion, the control, the purity, the resonance; it sends shivers down my spine every single time I hear it. As he rings out, in come the ubiquitous heavy guitar notes, made all the more muscular by Johan Neimann’s magnificent bass and some deft, masterful drumming from Jonas Ekdahl. You want epic wailing guitars? Well, you get them also in what is one of the most dramatic, and dark intros from Evergrey in a while. I have goosebumps on goosebumps as the guitars cry to the heavens.

As the song continues, in come some interesting and prominent synth tones from Rikard Zander that continue into the gargantuan, emotional, and scintillating chorus. What I also love about this song is the way that it feels more overtly progressive; I’m sure that the expert musicians in the room may say it’s deceptively straightforward, but to me, a layman, it shifts about so much both in terms of pace and intensity, that it just feels wonderfully progressive. Extended guitar solos, moments of quieter synth-led darkness, and yet more insanely evocative and poignant lyrical content and vocal delivery from Mr Englund – it all culminates in one of Evergrey’s greatest ever songs, rubbing shoulders easily with the likes of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, ‘Recreation Day’, ‘King Of Errors’, and ‘All I Have’.

A delicate synth intro that has a children’s lullaby quality to it ushers in ‘Call Out The Dark’, another killer composition. The intro is obliterated by a huge explosion of sound, albeit continuing the melody brilliantly. The verse quietens things down well, with Niemann’s bass rumbling at its heart, but the intensity grows into a lively bridge, before the initial melody returns to sit at the heart of an utterly monstrous chorus. This is the kind of chorus that Evergrey can deliver, the sing-along anthem that would get an entire festival crowd joining in with full gusto. I love the way the second verse is heavier, with irresistible dampened chugging guitar notes, just to add to the strength of the song. As always, you can count on Tom Englund and his six-string partner-in-crime Henrik Danhage for some brilliant lead solos, something I’ll never tire of quite frankly. It might only last a little over four minutes, but in that time, it creates a massive impact.

‘The Great Unwashed’ is another of my absolute favourites on ‘A Heartless Portrait’, beginning with a fantastically dramatic descanting intro led by the lead guitars, but ably assisted by all corners of the band. From there, the verses are a gloriously chugging, mid-tempo affair that then segue into yes, you’ve guessed it, another scintillating, spine-tingling chorus full of hooks and strong melody. The second verse features some bold synths from Zander that carry with them a slight 70s vibe, but again, when the chorus invades for a second time, I am a gibbering mess; music that speaks so strongly to my soul can have that effect and here, it’s like Englund and Co. have looked into my soul and created a chorus that fits perfectly. At the midway point, we get a reprise of the intro, followed by a quiet, introspective section featuring just Englund’s vocals and Zander’s synths, before a soulful and gorgeous lead guitar solo enters to provide further spine tingles. They’re not done though, because as the intensity grows, via the introduction of Ekdahl’s drums, the solo gets faster, leading to a stunning crescendo, accented by the synths. The guitar solos continue for a while more before we’re back into the chorus and I’m transported to God knows where. But my feet are not on the ground anymore, and for a few brief moments, the guys help me to forget all of my worries and fears. I’m getting emotional just writing this, but then I have the song in the background as I type, so I’m flooded with intense emotions of the very best kind. This music is just pure entertainment, pure genius, pure magic.  

Even though I have focused on these songs, I’ll say again that there isn’t a weak track to be heard anywhere on ‘A Heartless Portrait’. You’ll no doubt have heard the bulldozing, muscular ‘Blindfolded’ by now, or the final advance single, ‘Midwinter Calls’ with its equally muscular riffs, choral vocals, great synth and vocal sections, and ridiculously catchy chorus. Naturally, I love both, but then you’d have to be dead not to. And I’m definitely not dead yet.

I also love the song ‘The Orphean Testament’. Beginning in classic ‘recent’ Evergrey style, it takes no prisoners, and Tom Englund sounds properly angry in the opening stages. The chorus is a brooding monster, with added synth embellishment, and within a couple of spins it’s lodged in there for keeps, with the vocal hooks hitting you when you least expect it. It’s another longer song, one of three that stretches over six minutes, meaning that Evergrey can take their time to explore avenues of their choosing. In this case, it is a cool synth solo from Rikard Zander, as well as slow, thunderous riffs that hit hard.

I really don’t know if I need to say any more at this point. ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’. With Evergrey continually releasing music of this quality, not everything on Earth is bad, and the realisation that this is the case only further enhances my enjoyment of the album. For one final time, say what you want about the score I have given ‘A Heatless Portrait’, but say it in the knowledge that I simply don’t care, and I never will. Evergrey have delivered once again and delivered beyond my stratospheric expectations.

The Score of Much Metal: 100%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

3 Thoughts

  1. You don’t need to justify anything to anyone and i for one thank you for the many great bands I discovered by reading your blogs including Evergrey. Looking forward to discovering this new gem. Keep on rocking or rather Metalling🤘🏻

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