By David E. Gehlke
The "progressive metal" tag has never quite done Gothenburg, Sweden's EVERGREY justice. While such elements exist within the band's framework, EVERGREY was never built to run with the DREAM THEATERs and SYMPHONY Xs of the world. Instead, EVERGREY has leaned heavily upon the soulful vocals of Tom Englund to paint emotional landscapes fitting to their indisputably dark and challenging music. It has taken them from ambitious concept albums ("In Search Of Truth"),to stripped-down, song-first works ("Monday Morning Apocalypse") to their latest string of symphonic but no-less-heavy LPs ("The Atlantic" and "Rise Of The Phoenix"). Whatever the approach, all of them have been uniquely EVERGREY.
With most bands opting to wait to release new albums until touring opportunities resumed, EVERGREY made the most of their free time and has quickly followed up last year's "Rise Of The Phoenix" with "A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)". The aforementioned Englund spoke to BLABBERMOUTH about the fast turnaround, that dreaded "progressive" tag and how his lyrics reflect today's environment.
Blabbermouth: It feels like "Rise Of The Phoenix" just came out and now you're back with "A Heartless Portrait". Why such a quick turnaround?
Tom: "The day after we released 'Phoenix', we had a band meeting. We decided that we were probably not going to be able to play live for a while. I said, 'Maybe we should keep writing and see what happens.' We had this break in between where we at least recorded the music videos for all the songs for 'Phoenix'. We just kept on going. We went back to our writing dens and wrote for six weeks. Then we met up as a band and listened to the stuff. We ended up with 15 new song ideas. The inspiration was pouring. Then, Jonas [Ekdahl, drums] and I started producing the strongest songs — the songs we all had agreed that would be great and had great riffs. We did that back-and-forth for a bit. We went back to the band and said, 'Now, we have these ten songs. Can anything be added, or shall we go with these?'"
Blabbermouth: Does the continuity currently within the band help with these things? It sounds like you have a pretty carved-out process that streamlines songwriting.
Tom: "First and foremost, it helps we are not about the ego at all anymore. We got that out of our systems. [Laughs] Now, it doesn't matter if it's one guy who writes nine songs or the five of us. It's different from album to album. From 'Hymns For The Broken' , that's when me and Jonas started producing albums. We all agreed that this is the way it works best. We deliver stuff and make songs out of them. We go back and forth. It's still a democratic endgame if you will. We're the captains on a ship with two bigger captains and three smaller captains. [Laughs] No, but that's what it is and everyone is comfortable with that way of working. It takes the pressure off all our shoulders. We have recorded the last three, four albums as we go, especially for the last album. I recorded the guitars at the time of writing them perfectly. When it was time for bass and drums, they already had perfect backgrounds with vocals, solos, guitars, everything."
Blabbermouth: I remember when Henrik [Danhage, guitar] and Jonas left EVERGREY in 2010. Being how well the band operates today, how important was their four-year break?
Tom: "That was the best and only decision I made and we've made as a band that they should leave. We wouldn't be here today if they hadn't left back then. That's for sure. In between, when we had discussions about them coming back, we sat down individually, me and Henrik, me and Jonas, Jonas and Rikard [Zander, keyboards], we sat down and said, 'I was pissed off at you for doing this and saying that and acting like that.' That really helped."
Blabbermouth: Back to the quick turnaround. Not a lot of bands are releasing an album every year.
Tom: "We're also following our biggest commercial success with 'Escape Of The Phoenix'. EVERGREY's trajectory has always gone slowly but always upward. Even an album like 'Monday Morning Apocalypse'  where people thought we dipped, but we didn't. We got even more people into the band. Nowadays, seventy percent of our fanbase is from 2014 and onward. That's a pretty cool position to be in on your 13th album."
Blabbermouth: So you're saying your new fanbase has taken over from the holdovers from "In Search Of Truth" and "Recreation Day"?
Tom: "That is what's great about this. Today, it's so easy to statistically measure how many listeners you have with all the streaming companies and how you do with physical sales. I can get an overview much easier. We also own publishing rights and all that stuff. It's easy for us to see where people buy vinyl. That's the easy part. But it's even easier to get access to, 'How many streams do we have in this city?' Seventy percent of our total fanbase has arrived after 2014."
Blabbermouth: What led you to move over to Napalm Records from AFM?
Tom: "It was time to move on. After four albums, we reached a point in our collaboration with AFM that we knew how things would look for the next albums if we stayed. It was the same for them as well. They were, by far, the best label we have had up until that point, no doubt. When things become too comfortable, people sort of lean back and then we don't move forward. It was time to get some blood, new energy and oxygen to this project."
Blabbermouth: "A Heartless Portrait" could be your most song-oriented and melodic album in a while. What made you head in that direction?
Tom: "There was no conscious decision. We just do what we do. It would be great to have a master plan of, 'We sat down and discussed we should go more songwriter-oriented,' but we never do that. We might play pretentious music, but we're not at all pretentious in the songwriting mode. We just go with whatever we have within us. I mean, if you practice something for 30 years, one could hope you could become better at songwriting, guitar playing and vocals. That's where we are now. I feel like we are by far at the top of our career on all levels and all perspectives. Maybe not the virgin part of writing your first song, but we are very comfortable with what we are doing in all other perspectives."
Blabbermouth: Is it more of a challenge to write songs like that? You've pushed the technical envelope before without going too far.
Tom: "I think that's the challenge from the start. It takes time to get good at stuff, to write memorable things. I think we can go on and play eight-minute progressive stuff, sure. I don't think that's us anymore. We never were. We had these progressive elements in EVERGREY. But we leave that to bands who can handle it better than us, like DREAM THEATER. That's their bag; we do our stuff. We might release a super-progressive album next time. We're all progressive fans. It depends on where we are in life."
Blabbermouth: I never thought the "progressive" label was suitable for EVERGREY. It immediately placed you into a box with bands that sounded nothing like you. What do you think?
Tom: "Back in the day, it did. It sounds like I'm 100 years old. [Laughs] Back then, people were less open-minded. 'It needs to be thrash metal. It needs to be death metal. It needs to be black metal.' Death and black metal fans didn't listen to each other's genres. In that way, yeah, when they saw a band coming out on [progressive rock/metal label] InsideOut Music they also expected it to sound like the bands on the label at that time. It did hurt us back then. We felt that we weren't that and we had more to offer and by 'more,' we're also a lot of this and a lot of that. We're everything in-between fucking MORBID ANGEL to EUROPE. [Laughs] It placed us in a genre where people immediately and especially at that time, put us with DREAM THEATER. It was unfortunate for us. When some of their fans listened to us, they discovered we didn't play like DREAM THEATER at all. At the same time, I understand the human side behind that. People needed to put us in a genre to understand stuff. I'm proud to say we have sounded unique from the start because we have. Today, maybe we're getting the reward of sticking with our guns and not changing."
Blabbermouth: People may also not know what to make out of your vocals. You don't sound like other progressive metal singers.
Tom: "Yeah, I don't know what it is. I've always sung the way I could. I've never put on a persona; I can't do that. I play guitar to the best of my ability because that's the max I have within me — the same with vocals. I sound the way that I talk, basically. Some vocals you can hear, 'He talks like this, but he sounds like that.' That's weird for me. I consider myself more like David Gilmour [PINK FLOYD] in that aspect. It's all about the song. I'm not talking about the guitar playing. [Laughs] I'm talking about his vocals. I wouldn't want to compare myself to David Gilmour [on guitar]."
Blabbermouth: EVERGREY has a pretty good track record with ballads. "Wildfires" from the new album is another good one.
Tom: "I think I had the thought, 'What if the sun fell down? How would we react?' That was the inspiration to get going with the acoustic guitar. I even played keyboards on it. [Laughs] This is also the thing that makes the album sound different. Guitars are played by me, Johan [Niemann, bass], Jonas. Keys are played by everyone. It adds something. I don't know what it adds, but it's a freshness. But 'Wildfires' is one of those songs that, when it was done, we thought it was beautiful. It needed to be at the end of the album. We're old-school; we like to listen to the album from start to finish. It served as a great breather and you can hit play again. And it also has a fantastic fretless bass solo by Johan. It reminds me of [DON HENLEY's] 'New York Minute'. That's what we ripped off."
Blabbermouth: The subject matter of "Wildfires" is fitting for the times. How much of the last two years spilled over into the new album lyrically?
Tom: "Each and every album, even you put it in the context of alien abduction or being molested by the Catholic Church, we've always written about the human perspective. That is based on where I find myself in life at the time. Not saying that I was molested, but that's very much the case with the two last albums. It's my view of the world. It's my view on a world where I feel I don't belong. I feel less and less like I belong. It's becoming increasingly more hostile and vile and ruthless and egoistic. It's not something I want to pay forward to my kids. People today, young people, especially those who are not fortunate enough to be well-educated or can't afford to go to a university, are not educated in criticizing the media and the sources of information. If I have the battle to win, I want to say it's important for kids to know who they are, or young people. Find out who you are before somebody tells you who to be. All the media and I'm contributing by posting on Instagram and Facebook, but that's the mentors today. These big media companies tell you what to buy, eat, how to cry, what to laugh at. When you're young, it's difficult. It's entertainment mixed in with easy access to information.