Evergrey - The Inner Circle
Evergrey practically gives you more of everything with their fifth studio album. It is hard to compare Evergrey with another band, they have been able to develop a style that is very unique to them with mixing emotions, shifting in tempo, balancing between calm and harder, soft and heavy and most of all creating an ambience for their every album and this one isn't in any way an exception. It is the other way around, with Inner Circle their upward spiral has turned everything of the facts mentioned up a bit further.
This one feels mightier and more pompous than any of the other four albums they've done earlier and as Evergrey always managed to create a mood on their albums and why should this one be an exception? It is grand and mighty and the music feels just a little lighter and not so dark musically as their previous albums, but the story might not be so light. The Inner Circle is a concept album based around religious fanatics and fanaticism, it is a story about a person being stripped of self-respect and individuality as becoming a full member of a cult. To steal a line direct from the info that came with the album: the theme of the album has a strong emphasis on our roles as human beings in this world and the struggle between good and evil.
It is a splendid start with four strong songs before we can breath a bit with the ballad Waking Up Blind. Evergrey blends successfully as always mid-tempo paced songs with speed as in In The Wake Of The Weary that is driven by the hard hitting and fast drums mixed up with calmer melodic breaks with strings and female vocals. The breaks is I guess something apart from the typical created Evergrey moods something that can be seen as an trademark for Evergrey, and on Inner Circle they are more of a rule that occurs in every track and by that a connection towards Symphony X doesnt seems to farfetched.
The album is extremely even with perhaps no potential track that on forehand is given as a single release, like the cover I'm Sorry was for Recreation Day, but if I was the one to chose for this album I would go with Harmless Wishes. A really strong melodic tune with a big emotional sense and a catchy refrain, all packaged in the darker energetic Evergrey way, power and emotion in perfect harmony. Another choice could unfortunately be the ballad-like track Waking Up Blind, calm and soft with emotion but troubling enough it slows down the album and in my opinion it is the only really weak track on the album, although it is not a standard formula ballad, as anything would ever be following a standard formula with Evergrey, but nevertheless Wake Up Blind is a bit to monotone and insignificant.
Perhaps the evenness is the weakness of Inner Circle, it is not until the end the real progressiveness comes through and that is about the same time as they are adding the elements of spoken words. To enhance the story of The Inner Circle they have used a muffled microphone sound for those parts and even if the music isn't precisely an exact match I cant help but drawing references to the spoken parts in the video for Metallica's classic track One.
With the closing track When The Walls Go Down that has no singing at all but only spoken words the music goes through practically the whole spectra of Evergrey elements, usually Im isn't that fond of those kind of songs without sung vocals but here I must change my mind, it is progressive in a style almost as Jon Oliva from Savatage would have been involved and like he was handling the piano, suggestive and, well, simply beautiful. You can tell that the band has matured both musically and with the songwriting continuing in the same progression that they always has had with every album and the vocals from Tom S. Englund also sound as if he has found more emotions to put in his voice at the same time keeping the aggressive side alive.
The arrangements has to be mentioned with the balance with the great female guest vocals and the orchestration that they uses on this one. The strings are used not to much though it is simply a question of letting the strings act as backing support without taking over at any time, tastefully done without letting them take too much room at any place.
Evergrey manages to develop with every release they does and the arrangements are the biggest improvement with The Inner Circle. And what about the production then, absolutely superb with everything from how it sounds, I particularly like the sound of the drums handled by their new member Jonas Ekdahl and the arrangements with how the things are put together is perfect, not least with the parts with spoken words. The sound on the album is perfect, on some of their earlier albums my biggest objection has been that the sound is to dark and mostly thick for their type of metal, but with Inner Circle it is perfect when the sound is crisp and clear yet still heavy and dark.