The storm within

I think it’s pretty well established at this point that I’m an unrepentant metalhead. I grew up on the hair metal of the 80s, and some of my earliest memories are of my mom blasting Bon Jovi, Skid Row, and similar bands. (I was also told not to talk about Warrant around my father. Only later did I learn that was because he’d spent time in prison.)

I loved that kind of music. I loved the amazing guitar solos, the epic vocals, and everything about the sound. I really never stopped loving it, even as 80s metal gave way to 90s grunge and hard rock. “High Enough”, “18 and Life”, and “Silent Lucidity” were anthems for me long after their sell-by date. I tried to get into Metallica, but that fascination was cut short when they decided they’d rather sue their fans than make music. S&M is still a great album, if you ask me.

Of course, once I started looking into the genre, I found so many more artists to love. Nightwish, Blind Guardian, Avantasia, Borealis…the list could go on forever. They all have something in common, though. All of my favorite metal bands share that same feel. When I listen to music, I want to be moved, and this kind of music moves me in a way like no other.

Most of all, I think that comes from the lyrics. Too much modern music ignores them, or makes them incomprehensible. Nobody’s listening to rap for the words. You can’t even make out what somebody like Billie Eilish is saying!

Not so in the kind of metal I prefer. Here, the vocals are clean (if sometimes accented, because so many of the bands are European), and they aren’t drowned out by bass or compressed into a muddy mix fit for Spotify’s lowest quality. And they tell a story. That’s something a great song does. It’s why so many country, folk, and early rock standards became standards in the first place. Oh, I can lose myself in an instrumental track, but give me lyrics that tell a tale, and I’m hooked.

One band has utterly enthralled me for the past year or so: Evergrey. Like so many of the best metal acts, they’re from Sweden, which 2020 has shown to be the smartest country in the world. Their style is considered progressive, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. A lot of progressive metal artists are hard to listen to, but not this one. If anything, they’re one of the most accessible bands in the genre today.

Not only are they accessible, they’re relatable, at least for me. The lyrics move me. They ring so true in my mind that I sometimes feel as though Tom Englund is singing my life. I love that, even when I don’t. (I’ve also used a lyrical phrase as a post title here on PPC. If you’re curious, I’ll tell you which one.)

The topics of their songs are varied. Their The Inner Circle is a concept album about cults and child abuse. Hymns for the Broken strikes me as a rebellion against an authoritarian dictatorship; if the Democrats win next month, I’ll be listening to it a lot more. Last year’s The Atlantic was a little forgettable, in my opinion, but still not bad. Recreation Day left me in shock the first time I listened to it, because it was just the right album at the right time.

And then we have The Storm Within. It’s a few years old now. If anything, though, it’s more relevant to me than ever before. The opening track, “Distance”, sets the tone:

It’s not over
We’ll soon be closer than before
Can’t let this distance
Keep our distant souls apart

Being in a long-distance relationship, those words struck me every time I listened to them. They were a hope and a prayer for a man who doesn’t pray and had lost hope. I even let my partner listen to this song —her tastes are entirely different—and her response was simply, “That sounds a lot like you.” She was right.

“Passing Through” follows that, and it’s a nice, upbeat “live in the moment” song. There are things I’d like to tell the version of myself from ten years ago, so I could be, as it goes, “better, wiser, and not as blind.”

Next is “Someday”, a hard and heavy track that, to me, speaks of depression, failure, and the struggle those of us who suffer from those must endure. “I can’t do this alone,” the lyric says. These past few weeks, the message has been especially important.

“Astray” is one where the words are sometimes hard to understand. It’s about giving up, and these lines are awfully close to some I’ve said in my weaker moments:

I used to be stronger
I used to want this more
Is everything meant to hurt
And leave me alone?

After a few heavy songs comes “The Impossible”, a slower, softer track. The piano is strong here, something that always makes metal better, but the pathos overshadows it by far. Sometimes asking someone to change really is asking the impossible. We don’t mean for it to be that way.

“My Allied Ocean” is complex in multiple senses. It’s drum-centric, with a few good guitar riffs thrown in for good measure. The bridge of the song involves a spoken-word section (another of my guilty pleasures) that briefly became a mantra for me: “You have got to do it for yourself. You have to make the decision whether or not it’s worth it for you to live.”

That’s the halfway point of the album, but it doesn’t go downhill from here at all. One of my favorite things about metal is the sense of community. So many of the artists I love cross over, collaborate, and join supergroups. In the case of “In Orbit”, the seventh track, the guest is Floor Jansen, lead singer of Nightwish and one of my absolute favorite female vocalists. Even without her, though, this would be an amazing listen. It just has a tempo and an energy.

Track 8, “The Lonely Monarch”, is another one that’s hard to describe. It’s mainstream-accessible, not overly epic, with a guitar wail that grabs your attention. The underlying message, of a man who’s trying everything he can to keep his life from falling apart, well, that’s too familiar.

Next up, we have another collaboration, this time with Carina Englund, lead singer Tom’s wife, and a great vocalist in her own right. The song, “The Paradox of the Flame”, is a ballad, and I’m one of those people who believes that an album is no good if it doesn’t have a good ballad. This is of the best. Every line is emotional. The music hurts from its tragic beauty. The interplay between male and female singers tells a story everyone knows in a way you can’t help but feel.

Right after this slow, almost sensual ballad, we jump right back into the heavy end with “Disconnect”. From the opening lines, you know where it’s going:

Gone, she’s gone
How am I supposed to make it alone?

If the album as a whole is telling a story, it’s of a man whose mental problems get in the way and prevent him from having a healthy relationship. “Disconnect” is the point where he realizes the enormity of his mistake, and he’s doing everything in his power to make amends. Or maybe I’m biased because I’ve been at that point. “I never meant to be indifferent. I never wanted you to feel irrelevant. You were never insignificant.” Anyone who’s ever (accidentally or intentionally) treated their partner this way should listen. And so should those partners, because it’s what we all want to say.

The “main” album wraps up with the title track, “The Storm Within”. For some reason, this song is a chameleon in my mind. Every time I listen to it, I hear something different. I pick up parts I swear I’ve never heard before. It has an air of finality to it, a climactic sound that doesn’t really bring restitution. In a way, that’s poignant. We don’t get over these things. We merely learn to live with them. So there’s no real end, just a moment when we say, “This is it. From now on, I’m going to be better.” We can brave the storm within, or we can let it blow us away.

This aural feast closes out with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. I’d heard that song for years, but I never really listened to it closely. For one thing, Ozzy’s voice is essentially indecipherable. But the music also didn’t lend itself to any serious lyrical evaluation. With Evergrey’s version, that’s different. I was able to listen and hear, and I found that the song has the wrong title. It’s not about paranoia at all. It’s about depression, and about how it colors our perception even as it causes us to push away the ones we love. There could not be a better cover for this album.

That’s why I’ve listened to The Storm Within a couple dozen times in the past year. It’s good music, first of all. It’s everything I like in metal, and really nothing I don’t. No harsh vocals, no grunts or growls, just good, strong music. Better yet, there’s a story in it, a story I can relate to on the deepest level. Twelve tracks, and I can connect to almost every one of them. I wish I didn’t have to, but such is life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *