THE BOTTOM LINE: Midway through the title track of Evergrey‘s new album, the cumbersomely-monikered A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), as the parping keys of Rikard Zander duke it out with the squalling axes of Tom S Englund and Henrik Denhage, you’ll realise just how much fun you’re having with this record. And that is because, pound-for-pound, it’s simply the most enjoyably listenable Evergrey elpee since 2008’s Torn. Which makes it very enjoyable indeed.

Torn, for this writer at least, was Evergrey’s high water mark, but everything about AHPTOT suggests that Evergrey in 2022 are band still capable of upping their own ante with a collection of song-driven masterpieces that once more places this particular band near the top of it’s own particular tree. Prog power anthems? Try Midwinter Calls for size. Brooding, state-of-the-nation meditations bolstered by hammer-on-the-heart lyrical sophistication and top drawer musicianship? The Great Unwashed is simply the best song of this type you’ll hear all year.

At the heart of it all, of course, is the stunning vocal presence of Englund; he doesn’t disappoint, from the opening moment of first track Save Us to the closing strains of last song Wildfires he gives a bravura performance in heartfelt, powerful heavy metal singing, every line dripping with emotion, every word couched for maximum impact. He really is one of metal’s finest emotors, and it is absolutely thrilling to find him in such fie form here.

He’s no slouch with the six string either, of course, and his partnership with Denhage contiunues to flourish throughout this album, giving the right balance of bottom-heavy ballast and top string titillation; Balance is perhaps a key word in the description of this record, where Evergrey have so delicately juggled all the elements that make a great album to produce the sort of sure-footed performance only the very good at what they do can provide.

A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) releases on May 20th.