Founded and still led by the inimitable Tom S. Englund, Evergrey has spent the last three decades or so as one of Sweden's premier progressive/power metal acts. As such, it's only natural that they'd want to do something special for their 30th anniversary, and what could be better than an official anniversary album? Comprised of a virtually even split between live cuts, demos, and piano/vocal renditions of top-tier tracks, the somewhat career-spanning collection is a satisfying yet perplexingly restricted testament to the group's superb history.
Although its title arguably promises a full representation of Evergrey's studio catalog, From Dark Discoveries to Heartless Portraits' earliest material comes from the band's fourth LP, 2003's Recreation Day. Actually, the majority of the 15-track set is comprised of different versions of a handful of songs from last year's A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament). Obviously, that could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you enjoy that record (as well as what you expect from such a sequence); nevertheless, the lack of a wider palette is, at the very least, quite surprising.
Fortunately, everything that is here is done exceptionally well.
The first third or so contains concert material from a variety of places (such as Budapest and Nuremberg). Right away, it's clear that Evergrey's audiences are as enthused about what they're experiencing as the quintet is about doing each piece justice. A clear highlight is "Recreation Day," not only because it's among the band's greatest compositions but also because of Englund's playful banter before they kick it off. Elsewhere, the empoweringly bittersweet "Call Out the Dark" opens the show; the downright abrasive "My Allied Ocean" highlights the group's most ferocious side; and "King of Errors" balances its metal and symphonic elements perfectly.
Afterward, a few piano/vocal offerings demonstrate the fivesome's adaptability amidst evoking Englund's work with Vikram Shankar (as Silent Skies). In particular, this approach allows the pure melodic richness and emotional weight of "Call Out the Dark" to shine, but every other tune ("Save Us," "Blindfolded," and "Midwinter Calls") is impressive and impactful, too.
The final third of the set houses demos/rough mixes, and unsurprisingly, "Call Out the Dark" appears yet again in an unfinished state. Diehard devotees will surely appreciate the distinctions, but the fact that 20% of the album is devoted to the same song can't help but feel a bit superfluous. "Blindfolded" and "Midwinter Calls" pop up again as well (and they're equally interesting compared to their official cuts), and the additions of "Save Us" and an instrumental version of "A Silent Arc" are undoubtedly worthwhile.
For what it is, From Dark Discoveries to Heartless Portraits is a great package, as it gives fans intriguing and valuable glimpses into different stages of several classic Evergrey songs. That said, as a traditional retrospective, it's glaringly limited and redundant due to its repetitious track list and constrained scope. Even if the group/label/etc. have been wholly transparent about what fans can expect, the name and context of the LP inherently suggests a larger commemoration. That Evergrey's first and only compilation, A Decade And A Half, came out in 2011 makes the situation even more disappointing.)
Paradoxically, then, From Dark Discoveries to Heartless Portraits is at once a marvelous offering and a missed opportunity.