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Evergrey try to sound like every other band on the planet but themselves on their desperately ultra-heavy debut, "The Dark Discovery". It is not a necessarily shabby debut - it is just pale and bland and thoroughly vanilla from brickwalled end to brickwalled end. Angel Dust, Morgana Lefay and Patriarch are the subset to which this charmless prog endeavour belongs. There's that shallow aura of darkness communicated through the dense but static riffing and in the half baked lyrics...if only they had spent more time refining those songs, one can't help but feel. At their best, Evergrey are a convincingly bleak affair who sail on Englund and Bronell's intricate hooks and catchy progressions and Englund's passionate and enchanting croon. Here you can barely hear him though. He sounds lost underneath all this lumbering guitar muck. When he shines through as on "Shadowed", one of the album's highlights, he steals the show, giving muscle to a song whose riffs have utterly failed it.
"The Dark Discovery" lacks refinement. It hasn't aged well at all and in the grand scheme of all things Evergrey, it doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose. Thankfully, the band got better on subsequent releases but this dire preamble of a vacuum is also a sort of reflective mirror through which their more generic and phoned-in moments can be traced back. The blandness that thrives in tunes like "When The River Calls" has many a cousin down the Evergrey discography and in bands like Aeon Zen. Tom S. Englund is of course phenomenal and does his best to keep you entertained. But some of his pleas come off unconvincing and it begins to seem as if he is rushing through every song to exhibit better passion in the next. He gets his big moment on "For Every Tear That Falls" with his measured husky tone balanced perfectly with Carina Englund's sweet soaring. The sorrow is a bit too nuanced but the song ultimately ends up being "The Dark Discovery"'s most memorable piece. Quite pathetic that a ballad should be the highlight but then again, the change of pace is what does it.
There seems to be some concept at hand (I think someone murders their best friend?) but the poor lyricism doesn't enable much investigation. And because there's a real lack of variety and dynamism, it doesn't make for much progressiveness. Englund and Bronell are skilled guitarists whose licks are budding solos that never grow. Andy LaRocque throws in his two cents at some point but not enough to retain awe. Will Chandra's keyboard lingerings swoop around like pesky flies making you wish everyone could just break out and have a ball. They do so to some degree on the album closer, "To Hope Is To Fear" but by then it is rather too late. The prevailing mood of the album is one of suppression and restraint and not the adventure that the title "The Dark Discovery" promises you with. A lot of time is spent cultivating thickness with no concern whatsoever for texture and the common joys of riff harmony - remember Iron Maiden, boys and girls? Whatever soul can be filtered through this shambles is gotten from Englund whose great vocal presence never wavers.
"December 26th" does its groove dynamics well if you're into that sort of thing and "Closed Eyes" succeeds at building tension and crafting a dark epic around its swampy melodies and questing riffs. Indeed sublime moments like those show up every now and then but you have to invest enthusiasm to snag them. Running in the seemingly opposite prog direction of their countrymen Opeth, here is a debut album worthy of every underestimation it gets. Because sometimes prog really needs the excessive boldness it is blamed for or else we suffer blandness such as this.
Finding a band that can breathe a breath of fresh air into the lungs of a slowly dying breed of rock is hard to find these days. "Evergrey", however, might just be the answer to the immortal question, "Where did all the good progressive metal acts go?"
It is hard to actually find a good progressive metal act out in the world today. Especially one that can blend such dark and frightening topics such as paranoia and regret with amazing progressive metal, as well as some power metal and gothic metal. Quite a combination going there for them. The album can easily be described as an amazing blend of metal. From start to finish, you are bombarded by various styles. You have your fast, deep, and powerful songs, followed by your really slow, acoustic, break-out-your-lighter-and-sing-in-unison-with-the-vocalist type songs, and then you just have your songs that are in between. There's no constant beat that the band lives up to, bringing a wide array of styles with their presentation.
The lyrics are very deep and meaningful, as well as sometimes spiritual. However, sometimes you cannot hear the vocals. Due to a somewhat low production quality (which is understandable for a band's debut album, especially given the time frame that this CD was actually released overseas in 1998), you can hear the music loudly and amazingly, but the vocals sound faded and off in the distance. And, if you are a real stick-in-the-mud, you can hear some small pops of volume in the song 'Closed Eyes', where the volume level picks up a bit, a cymbol crashes, and the guitars are suddenly real low again, sounding as if the CD skipped slightly, and not as though this sound was done on purpose.
Outside of that, the album is really good. One minute you are given a platter of really fast guitar riffs, the next you are given a slow and meaningful song of passion and fear. It's an odd combination, but it makes for one of the best progressive releases in a long while. If you haven't already, check this one out for yourself.