Back in 1998 a Swedish metal band went to Gothenburg to record their debut studio album The Dark Discovery not realizing that in 2014 they would still be a functioning band and ready to unveil album number nine. Hymns for the Broken captures a band in touch with their strengths yet moving in to a new direction regarding the lyrical theme. After releasing concept albums about paranoia, alien conspiracies, cults and religions, Evergrey today delve deeply via colorful wordplay into the realms of depression.
Tom Englund has the responsibility mostly for the words that accompany strong and passionate displays of emotive metal music, and remains the main focus regarding all aspects of the band. The vocalist and guitarist were exhausted and very much of the mind-set that his cherished creative force Evergrey, was no longer a going concern as the band splintered into fragments pursuing different avenues merely months before this latest studio opus came to be.
The latest incarnation of the band consists of Jonas Ekdahl on drums, Henrik Danhage on guitar and backing vocals with keyboardist Rikard Zander and Johan Niemann on bass and backing vocals joining Englund. This tour de force is quite rightly proud of their accomplishments regarding Hymns for the Broken which from start to finish is intense, fragile and powerful contained within a cohesive shell of sincerity and passion.
“This album is actually about my exhaustion and depression, so I’m talking about where I go from finding out the identity that I have that is connected to me is not something I feel comfortable being. The travel of that and onward and with all these psychological diagnosis and tearing down the walls and barricades… I mean the last song The Aftermath is not like the end of the journey in any way, but I’ve done a good portion of travelling within myself. So the album describes an inner revolution which has been extremely dark and still is today sometimes.” Englund is precise in his delivery of thoughts regarding the new album.
Englund continues his insight in to what it means being described as a ‘dark’ band. “We have always felt that we’ve been communicating a sense of participation and a forum for being, you know, feeling that you can belong somewhere and that’s the positive aspect about talking about these negative and dark things.”
On the subject of concept albums and where Hymns for the Broken sits within their back catalogue, Englund is enthusiastic on the topic. “A concept album for me usually is something that is based on a fictional story in a way and this is my story, so it’s weird to talk about it in a sense of a concept album as it’s more in the form of a diary or something like that.”
Helping those who are curious about the nature of such a lyrical theme, Englund continues his travel guide through the world of words he has shared. “We also use this war analogy you know, and the comparisons of war like the battlefields and barricades and tearing down walls and I speak in a ‘we’ form not an ‘I’ form because that makes it easier to pull the listener in I guess.” When quizzed whether this lyrical direction came accidentally or whether it was always intended to surface, the lead vocalist and guitarist wrestles with his thoughts accordingly; “I think the decision lyric-wise was there all along.”
With rumors and perhaps subtle indications rising to the surface prior to the release of Hymns for the Broken suggesting the band were struggling and calling it a day, Englund explains the background leading up to this album being recorded. “What happened was that the previous drummer was offered a position in Sabaton and he asked me if I thought that he should do it. Back then everybody was in a declining state where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue another lap of making an album and whatever the cycle holds. So I sent him off and then Marcus (Jidell, guitarist) also quit on his own.”
He continues to recollect, “We had two gigs booked that we had to do and only two people that I knew who knew all the songs and that was Jonas and Henrik. So we called them up as hired musicians really, and at that point we didn’t have any thoughts of any reunion or whatever you want to call it. So that thing grew through playing together and hanging out together again and finding out – yeah, this was why we played together in the first place.”
The drummer Ekdahl added with some enthusiasm another memory adding to the collective of explanations as to why they are a unit today. “We had a surprise bachelor party for the old bass player Michael (Håkansson) and as a cool experience we gathered the troops and let him play bass and we played a bunch of Evergrey songs which surprised him. That was so fucking fun!”
With Ekdahl in attendance it only felt right to ask about his story in relation to Evergrey. The drummer had been playing for the band from 2003 until 2010, and was now back in business after the three to four-year break. “We needed a break from working together – all of us. Me and Henrik, we weren’t enjoying ourselves being in the band anymore, and the other three didn’t enjoy having us because of that. We just wanted to do something else and we agreed we’d leave and do our thing and Evergrey could continue to do their thing with the people who really like to do that. It wasn’t fair to anyone if we would just continue to play for the sake of it, so we parted ways and most of all we could still have our friendship; that was the most important thing.”
The tone of sincerity continued as Ekdahl proceeded further with his thoughts on the matter. “I think it was the best decision we’ve ever done as now everything feels so great. I told Tom yesterday actually how amazed and surprised that things feel this good, I knew it would be feeling great, but this is just amazing, everything is fucking supreme!”
Before talking to Screamer Magazine, Englund had been quoted in a press release regarding Hymns for the Broken stating “The band sounds hungry, the album sounds awesome, and I can say there’s not a weak song on it. I like it a lot, which is strange because usually I’m so tired of the music after working on an album for such a long time. Honestly, I’ve never felt I’ve been as close to the music as I am with Hymns for the Broken because all the bits and pieces are in there. It’s exactly what my vision for the album was. Usually you get about 80% of it right, but this is 100% what we wanted.”
When asked about why he felt things had resulted in such a strong collection of material and such a cohesive album, Englund pondered and responded. “I think it is mainly because we decided from the beginning that if we were going to do this another lap, we need to make damn sure that what we put out there is good enough for ourselves to be happy with it, and we also approached the recording in a different way.”
Carried by momentum when addressing the subject of how it was recorded and the unanimous response to the new material, he continues. “We recorded the bass and drums live until we had the takes we wanted and for the rest of us to play on top of that. Then the vocals were very spontaneously sung while I was writing the lyrics so it has a lively feel to the album. It feels full of life in a way and that is something we maybe have lacked before, you know the ability to present Evergrey with a bit of hope.”
Realizing that it might be taken in the wrong way, Englund then adds, “I’m not bashing the old stuff at all, but I’m saying maybe with this one we have managed to integrate this sense of hope and I think that strikes a common chord with everyone, and everyone feels pretty much the same about this album which has never happened before.”
These Swedish metal merchants certainly have discovered a new ingredient to their creative process and whether it is agreed that the invested sense of hope is what has taken them to a whole new level, or whether it is the simple fact that the brief disintegration of Evergrey made the respective parties see the light in regards of what they had, there is no getting away from the quality on show within the structure of Hymns for the Broken.
Evergrey are back from the brink of self-exhaustion and destruction to fight for another day, which will no doubt please many of their fans and bystanders who wish for nothing more than to listen to some good quality powerful and thought-provoking music. The album is without a doubt one of many highlights from the wider rock music community this year, and with equal measures of introspection, parallel comparisons and a sense of pride invested at the heart of it all, there might well be a generous amount of souls singing from the Hymns of the Broken.