Review Summary: Taking the best elements from many bands in the gothic metal scene and using them head and shoulders above everyone else, After Forever create not only their best album, but the best album the gothic metal scene has to offer.
Genre creating bands are often difficult to judge. Sure, when they’re just debuting or in their prime, people praise them. But what happens in 5 years" 10 years" New and better bands come along and make the innovators seem like pure garbage and erase the memory of what these bands did for the genre.
Helloween is a perfect example. In their heyday, they were credited with creating power metal, and their albums back then showed their originality and brilliance. After a few years, their albums started getting worse and worse, showing the band’s age. Now, Helloween’s music sounds dated, taken over by their younger, better contemporaries.
After Forever, on the other hand, is not such a band.
While one wouldn’t call After Forever one of the originators of gothic metal, you can’t deny the impact they’ve had on the scene. The Dutch group has made a name for themselves with their brand of gothic metal led by the superb vocals of Floor Jansen and backed by a very good band who know their way around their instruments.
However, I don’t think even After Forever were prepared for what they would do next. In 2004, they released Reimagine, which, while still good, was overshadowed by their 2002 opus Invisible Circles. Reimagine focused a bit more on keyboard based lines, and took away the more aggressive edge the band possessed on earlier releases. While it was generally well received, a few people were still disappointed with them.
So After Forever went back into the studio to record what we have here, a self titled album. Unassuming, perhaps, you might be thinking. Self titled albums are uninspired, some may think.
I’m gonna break it down for you, though. This album is the single greatest thing to happen to the gothic metal scene. Period.
Why" This release wasn’t about innovation. It was about taking elements from every part of the scene and doing them miles better than anyone else. After Forever include a full orchestra a la Nightwish, the layering capabilities of Lacuna Coil, growled vocals of most other gothic metal bands, and even some electronica elements much like old school Evanescence. Utilizing all of this, After Forever created the pinnacle of gothic metal that will most likely stand as the best the scene has to offer.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking. It’s true, I do have a tendency to overrate albums on first listen, and then on subsequent listens the flaws are made clear. To make sure I wasn’t overrating this, I listened to it countless times, and this album honestly has no flaws. There is no filler, no bad riffs, none of that overproduction crap. Everything has a purpose, every track was crafted with an obscene attention to detail, and the pacing is perfect.
With the addition of Joost Van Den Broek (what a mouthful) to keyboards a few years ago, the band could only go up with him onboard. While Reimagine showed some of his addition to the band, this release throws the notion of keyboards in metal right out the window and submerses Joost in the center of it. He really gets to cut loose this time with touching piano parts, shredding leads and everything in between. Tracks like Evoke
and Empty Memories
have a high emphasis on the electronic aspects that Joost can provide for the band. In the case of the latter, After Forever takes an approach much like the one used by The Gathering, albeit more distorted and much heavier.
The rest of the band does their part as well. The bass is prominent, the drums are interesting, guitars are nice and heavy, and soft and quiet when they need to be, and they all play off of each other beautifully. This is another case of an extremely together band, and they’re only made better because of it. The whole band functions as more of a rhythm keeper than a lead instrument. Part of the genius of After Forever, as Det_Nosnip, resident After Forever fanboy, says, is that they integrate their lead lines into the orchestra. It gives the music a much better flow, and allows both sides to be more creative with their respective parts.
Great music would mean squat without a controlling force to front the band. Floor Jansen is yet another reason why After Forever kicks the living crap out of their contemporaries. She has a beautiful voice, but my GOD, it grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. The power that she possesses, words cannot describe. Honestly, you just have to listen to it to get a feel of what I’m talking about.
After Forever experimented with string arrangements on their earlier albums (ok, experimented is a bad word. Most gothic metal bands rely on them to make the music interesting). Here, we see them expanding yet again with the addition of the aforementioned full orchestra, which makes their capabilities for songwriting much more creative. Discord
, for example, employs great orchestral work in the beginning and throughout, and Dreamflight
relies on the orchestra to add that extra layer to what is the longest song of After Forever’s career. Clocking in at an impressive 11:09, and never becoming boring, it’s one of the high points of the album. If the album had high points, mind you. Everything is of the same caliber, and there are really no tracks that are worse than others.
I’m also a sucker for key changes, and once again, After Forever uses them to great effect. Envision
contains one at the last chorus (along with an opening riff that was ripped out of Lunatica’s playbook. I don’t mean stylistically either. I mean literally; this song and Elements by Lunatica have almost the exact same orchestra parts), which, again, only helps the song. Energize Me
, the band’s first single, also contains a few. Now, when a band releases the most commercial and radiofriendly song as a single, and they STILL manage to make it sound better than 99.9% of the music out there, it’s a mark of greatness.
One of my favorite tracks, Transitory
is all about intensity. From the beginning all the way through, the song flies along with an aggressive nature that can’t be tamed. Death growls abound interplay with Floor’s soprano, and Joost really gets to cut loose with some of the best synth leads I’ve heard incorporated into this type of music. De-Energized
, another high intensity track, employs a Rammstein-esque stuttering techno effect to parts, except without the crap bits. As lame as this may sound, this song must be what pure hate sounds like. You can feel it just flowing through the song.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the ballad tracks. Cry With A Smile
employs the orchestra and Joost’s piano lines masterfully to back up Floor’s vocals. There’s no cheese in this ballad, just beautiful music. Empty Memories
takes the minimalist electronic styled approach mentioned earlier and uses it to really show how Floor can carry a song by herself. As such, the track ends up being an extremely sensitive, beautiful piece, complete with haunting, powerful vocals. Definitely a high point of the album, Empty Memories will stir up emotions you thought you never had.
So. In case this review hasn’t told you, this is the pinnacle of gothic metal. All that needs to be said.
Just get the damn album. They’re all good.