When it comes to consistency in the metal scene, EVERGREY are one of those few bands that you can always depend on to release quality albums, a status they have solidified across twelve top-notch releases. On May 20th, 2022, “Gothenburg’s finest export of darkness,” as EVERGREY are labeled in the press release, will unleash “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)” unto the world via Napalm Records. This new studio effort comes just 15 months after their highly successful “Escape of the Phoenix” and sees the band enter a new chapter of their career.
The above description pretty much hits the nail on the head when it comes to not just the band’s discography so far into their career, as it is particularly poignant when talking about “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament).” The layer of darkness that shrouds this album is much thicker than on previous releases, while the melodic and atmospheric elements are less prevalent in the songs, which, in turn, make the overall soundscape and mood feel gloomy and ominous. For the most part, even the lyrics are more brooding and sullen than before, painting a very grey portrait of humanity. However, the selling point of this album is the journey on which it takes the listeners, a journey from the deepest darkness in search of a sliver of light. That is, while the general ambiance is one of deep-seated melancholy, there is light at the end of the tunnel – the black, stuffy clouds do have a silver lining.
“A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)” rewrites the Greek myth of Oedipus’ descent into the Underworld (Hades) in order to tell the story of how society lost its way. The usage of the first person pronoun plural “we” throughout most of the verses and especially in the choruses is a strong indication that this album is a general reflection on the current state of the world and not so much an introspective affair like before. The choir of voices that echo through both “Save Us” and “Midwinter Calls” add layers to the music and a deeper understanding to the lyrics. The chorus of “Midwinter Calls” (“We are lost, far from home / We never discovered a way to get closer / Our whole existence outlasts our fall”) depicts the dire situation humanity finds itself in with the foreboding music adding to this sentiment. The aptly titled “Ominous” is a somber track, both musically as well as lyrically, that perfectly captures the mood of walking through life on auto-pilot. “The fire’s gone but I’m still burning / Life is long I’ll travel on” wails Tom Englund in the chorus, expressing a very relatable feeling, while the back-to-back solos by Englund and Henrik Danhage inject a bit of energy into the track. Where on previous tracks you had the melodic aspect to balance out everything and lift up the mood (think “Currents” or “Eternal Nocturnal”), here you can only depend on the textures and nuances created by Rikard Zander’s keys and the guitars to add depth to the track. The keys have a bigger presence on the symphonic-infused “Call Out the Dark,” as they weave in and out of the soundscape, helping the overall atmosphere feel less stifling while bringing a bit of brightness to the fold.
The title track is not just the centerpiece of the album, but also one of the heaviest numbers in EVERGREY’s rich catalog. It’s a massive wall of sound, boasting dominant drums from Jonas Ekdahl and some angry vocals that go hand-in-hand with the slow, thick riffs; there’s also a keyboard solo in between the guitar solos to give the track more oomph, while the chorus is big and dour. “Reawakening” is the turning point of the story – Orpheus is on his way out of the underworld. Consequently, there’s a shift happening and in this track, the music feels less gloomy and more hopeful. In stark contrast to “Ominous,” Tom Englund now croons that “I’m broken but breathing / I’m still alive but did a lot of bleeding / I’m open to reasons to feel alive.” Even the vocal delivery feels more up-tempo this time around and the instruments have a more solid melody to build upon. Zander’s keys are gradually more present in the soundscape and both “Reawakening” and album highlight “The Great Unwashed” benefit greatly from the lush ambiance they bring. Hope in humanity is also restored as Englund sings in the bridge of “The Great Unwashed” that, “We’ll always unite in the end / We’re stronger than most just pretend / We never mind the dark.” EVERGREY’s great sense of melody makes a steady comeback in the second part of the album, with “Heartless” being the most melody-driven track on display here and my personal favorite. It boasts a great singalong chorus, alluring verses, a radiant aura, and one of the album’s best solos (though it’s hard to pick a favorite solo because all the guitar moments are outstanding in their own right and round up the songs perfectly). Shimmering ballad “Wildfires” carries on delicate acoustic guitar and grave bass lines, bringing the album to a serene and peaceful close.
EVERGREY are absolute masters of the craft when it comes to delivering dark melodic metal. On “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament),” everything is turned up to eleven – the shadows loom darker, the highs are more brilliant, the heaviness is relentless, the soundscape is thicker, the emotions are stirring, the storytelling is immersive, and the musical layers run deeper than ever. Hence, it will take a few spins to fully uncover all its musical intricacies and lyrical poetry, but each play-through is rewarding in itself, as you’ll gradually discover new layers of sound and meaning you might have missed before. While the album’s musical impact is undeniable thanks to Jacob Hansen’s flawless mixing and mastering, the emotional effect is even harder to shake off, as the lyrics act like a mirror, making us take a good look at ourselves and asking us to come to terms with the state of society. Throughout the runtime of this album, wounds are opened only to be healed, and this is magic that only EVERGREY can create and deliver to perfection.
Written by Andrea Crow
1. Save Us
2. Midwinter Calls
4. Call Out the Dark
5. The Orphean Testament
7. The Great Unwashed
Tom S. Englund – vocals, guitars
Henrik Danhage – guitars
Rikard Zander – keys
Jonas Ekdahl – drums
Johan Niemann – bass