Evergrey - Theories Of Emptiness

Artist: Evergrey

Album Title: Theories Of Emptiness

Label: Napalm Records

Date of Release: 7 June 2024

Give or take, I have been writing about music for the better part of two decades, since July/August 2006 when I received my first batch of reviews for Powerplay Magazine, to be published in Issue 80 in September 2006. Or, to put it another way, that’s over 928 weeks, 6500 days, 156,000 hours, or 9,360,000 minutes. In that time, I have written hundreds of album reviews, interviewed countless bands, and articulated my thoughts on no small number of live shows and festivals. Not all for Powerplay, but for a smattering of online publications and, more latterly, on my own as the Man Of Much Metal. I dread to think, but I must be running into the millions of words in that time; several millions of words all dedicated to the music that I have loved and continue to love to this day and beyond.

However, after a lot of soul searching, it comes to an end here and now. This, as many of you will be aware, is the last review that I will write. Never say never of course, as no-one knows what the future will hold, but I am tired of it right now. It’s not as enjoyable as it once was, with hundreds of new releases each month, all vying for attention, and making it all but impossible for this one person to cover it all. I could have brought in other people to write with me, but this was my labour of love and I wanted it to just be my work. And it has meant that I have missed some albums, let the bands down, and left emails unread as I slowly drowned under the weight of expectation. Not even my manic bursts of productivity could help and so I have decided to throw in the towel. I’ll remain active on social media to support the artists that I like, but there are unlikely to ever be any more giant reviews…after this one…

…and what a fitting way to bow out, with a review of the band that I consider to be the very best of the lot, my personal favourite. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Theories Of Emptiness’, the fourteenth release from the mighty, peerless, and magical Evergrey.

I know some of you always scroll to the end when reading my stupidly long reviews, to see what the final score is in order to decide whether it’s worth your time reading my endless waffle. Well, on this last occasion, let me assist you: This is without a doubt another masterpiece that is fully deserving of a full score. So, 100% is what it gets.  

I can already sense several eye rolls in my direction and sighs of exasperation, but that’s fine, because this is my swansong, and I’ll reward my all-time favourite band with the mark that I genuinely believe it deserves. I may be a fanboy, but there’s a reason for that. And, once again, Evergrey have proved to me that there is no-one else that can touch them.

I’m going to start my review by saying that I was not immediately sold on all of the new material. Was there some filler in there? No, surely not? But…maybe….

As it turns out, I just needed some time with ‘Theories Of Emptiness’ to understand it all, and to allow the magic to seep into me. Of course there’s no filler, just eleven individual tracks of brilliance that only add another dimension to their already majestic back catalogue. Believe me, once it clicks, it will not let go. It certainly hasn’t yet for me.

I also wasn’t immediately sold on the album art either. Used more recently to more ‘epic’ artwork, I was thrown by the simplicity of the cover here. However, a long-term fan of Mattias Norén’s works, it has grown on me to the point where I find it refreshingly simple and impactful. It’s different for Evergrey and that’s not a bad thing. Indeed, in the accompanying press release, Tom Englund is quoted as saying “For us, progression is paramount…We’re dedicated to ensuring that our music remains innovative and avoids stagnation. With each album, we strive to introduce something new — a unique flavour, a different key or chord, fresh voices in our writing, or innovative production techniques.” 

When it comes to the music, however, there is a warmth and familiarity to it that shines through from the first note to the last. Yes, there are some new ideas at play on ‘Theories Of Emptiness’ which I’ll explore as I go on, but equally, this is unmistakeably Evergrey.

Evergrey - Theories Of Emptiness

I want to start the in-depth look at the music at the fifth song, ‘Ghost Of My Hero’ because, as far as I’m concerned, this could be their finest ever moment. I’ve seen other reviews suggesting that it gets a little too close to being sentimental and a bit too saccharine for their liking. For me, though, it’s up there with ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, ‘All I Have’, and ‘King Of Errors’ in terms of its magnificence. I mean, what’s not to love? The crushing guitars, the smooth, soulful vocals, the achingly poignant lyrics, and the rich orchestral embellishments towards the end all combine with simple, effective melodies to create a genuinely show-stopping tour-de-force of a song. I get chills and shivers down my spine, as well as tears in my eyes as the topic of love and loss feels so real when magnified through the unique, stunning delivery of Tom S. Englund. I could (and do) listen to this song over and over again, but I never seem to tire of it. It just gets better. I adore it.

Next on my hitlist is the ninth track, ‘Cold Dreams’. Featuring the vocal talents of guest Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) and Englund’s very own daughter Salina, it’s one of the most striking compositions on ‘Theories Of Emptiness’. As well as providing his more mellifluous clean voice, Renkse also growls, and for a fan of old-school Katatonia and other extreme metal, this is a very welcome surprise. The composition itself has more of an overtly progressive feel to it, benefitting from an interesting ebb and flow structure, as well as using the keys of Rikard Zander to great effect. There’s a strong dark vibe, too, full of atmosphere, enhanced by a great use of light and shade, with Niemann’s bass coming through powerfully. And so too, does the drumming of the sadly departing Jonas Ekdahl, which underlines his prowess and abundant talent behind the kit. He will be missed. And, as always, the melodies deployed really start to dig in deep and strong, begging frequent repeat plays.

From here, I could go in any number of directions, but let’s stick to convention and head back to the beginning. ‘Theories Of Emptiness’ opens with ‘Falling From The Sun’, the lead single off the record, meaning that many of you will already be familiar with it. With it’s up-tempo beat meted out by Ekdahl alongside bassist extraordinaire Johan Niemann and imposing, seven-string riffs from Englund and axe-partner Henrik Danhage, it is as typical an opening composition as you’re likely to hear from the Swedes. And boy does it get the blood pumping, and the head nodding. Topped off by a catchy-as-hell chorus and duelling lead guitar solos, it’s a breathtaking start.

With gang-style vocals in the chorus and some really chunky, monstrous guitar tones blending with a resonant, pulsing bass in the verses, ‘Misfortune’ is one of the definite growers on the record. It only lasts a smidge over three minutes, reminiscent of the ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ days, but the punch it packs is greater than it ever has a right to be. It has also slowly become a real sing-along affair for me, one of many it must be said on this album.

‘To Become Someone Else’ follows and it is an entirely different beast from its predecessors predominantly because of the beguiling mid-section of the track. But it starts quietly, too with a focus on Tom’s voice as well as some ear-catching keyboard sounds, favouring an almost 70s prog influence unless I’m mistaken, particularly in the sprawling chorus. And then, out of nowhere, Rikard Zander takes centre stage in delivering what can only be described as a gorgeous, atmospheric section that’s cinematic in its film score grandiosity and equally moving, too it must be said. The heavy riffs that emerge and intertwine are foundation-shaking too, creating a spinetingling experience that gets better the more I listen to it.

Second single ‘Say’ comes next and it hits hard and sharp, with yet more arresting synths dancing in and out of the guitars and rhythms. I love the guitar embellishments within the verses that are lighter and harken back more to the early days, whilst the chorus is utterly killer, another of those sing-along moments that is sure to be a hit in the live setting. It also sounds great at full volume in the Motor of Much Metal, I can assure you, especially when the off-kilter, lurching riffs emerge in the latter stages.

With the unenviable task of following ‘Ghost Of My Hero’, ‘We Are The North’ wastes no time in dialling the heaviness and intensity up again, albeit not initially from a pace point of view, as it lumbers forth with the grace and speed of a steamroller. However, as is the Evergrey way, a chorus comes out of nowhere, to make the whole thing irresistible. Tom’s vocals are on point as always and the hints of growling give the song real bite. This was another of those early ‘ho-hum’ tracks that has blossomed into something much stronger, especially thanks to the mid-song pause and injection of dark atmospheric beauty.

‘One Heart’ is the song upon which fans have been invited to sing and are mixed into the chorus in the song’s latter stages. It also happens to be another anthemic number, a traditional call to arms Evergrey song with sharp hooks and really delicious dual guitar solo harmonies to enjoy the hell out of. I defy anyone to not raise their fists along with the rousing chorus, because I can’t.

Just when you think that the quality cannot continue at such a pace, in marches ‘The Night Within’ asking for its beer to be held whilst doing so. The keys of Rikard Zander create a playful edge to the song from moment one, making it an instantly irresistible composition. Backed up by some of the most delicious and immediately magnetic melodies, this song is another shorter piece, but easily one of my favourites. And, unless I’m imagining it, it almost sounds happy. No, that can’t be right, can it? I mean, this is Evergrey. But no, I stand by it, and I love it.

‘Our Way Through Silence’ closes out the album in the sense that it’s the final ‘proper’ track on ‘Theories Of Emptiness’. In a slightly similar fashion to ‘The Night Within’, there’s a air of positivity that runs through this song, albeit with more of a bittersweet, whimsical hue to it. Another of those ‘growers’, it has finally got under my skin to the point where it’s every bit as vital to the record as all of the other tracks on offer.

The title track is essentially an instrumental outro, but with a sampled spoken-word element to it. The voice talks about the concept of emptiness accompanied by delicate piano and bass notes, and swathes of equally delicate synths. It’s a thought-provoking and typically dark ending to the album, providing a fitting and poignant close to proceedings.

And there you have it. My final review. In my mind, there was no better way to bring my writing to an end than with another perfect demonstration as to why I consider Evergrey to be the greatest band of them all. This is another flawless collection of dark and melodic progressive heavy metal, the kind that only the best in the business could deliver. Delicious melodies, poignant lyrics, heartfelt vocals, and some of the most professional and talented instrumental execution from all corners of the band means that we have another masterpiece on our hands, I really mean it.

But not only are they the best band, I consider these guys friends now, something that wouldn’t have likely happened without writing the reviews, conducting interviews, and generally being a pain in their collective backsides over the past couple of decades. I’ll still be around social media to give my thoughts and recommendations on music, so I won’t disappear entirely. But, as far as the reviews go, thanks for all the support over the years – I shall now bid you a fond farewell…I’m not welling up a little, you are.

The Score of Much Metal: 100%



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