12/12/2008 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Fairly classy entry into the female-fronted symphonic metal
Man, until I read the liner notes to this album, I was going to marvel at how well keyboard synthesizer technology has managed to simulate orchestral sounds. I mean, listen to that uber-grandiose orchestral intro to leadoff cut "Discord"- it sounds so real! So much for that thought, though, because it turns out the orchestral parts on this album are indeed real, contributed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who sound suitably grand and imposing for this fairly classy entry into the female-fronted symphonic metal contest, thank you very much.
Yes, as I have noted before, this genre has become a bit crowded in the wake of popularity surges for bands such as Nightwish, Lacuna Coil and, on a less purely metal level, Evanescence. However, despite the crowding and despite a lack of any readily apparent singular trait to call their own, After Forever do a pretty good job of distinguishing themselves in this field.
Like Epica, however, After Forever suffer a bit from the unwelcome influence of Cookie Monster, a trait I find quite bothersome, but won’t agonize over at length here (for more on that, see my review of Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy).
Interestingly, this release comes after the departure of guitarist Mark Jansen to that very band, apparently bringing the growly vocal trait to his new band. Here, guitarist Sander Gomman does the dishonors when it comes to growls, although he wisely keeps it to a minimum on this album (personally, I think it should be given an even wider berth in the future), usually leaving the vocal spotlight to the elegantly-voiced Floor Jansen.
Musically, After Forever offer nothing revolutionary in terms of song structure or musical style for the most part, but do what they do with a touch of class. Being a guitarist and fan of fancy but tasteful fretwork, I enjoy the guitar work of Gomman and co-guitarist Bas Maas, though I wish there were more to it--more solos, more intricate riffing, more deviation from the expected basics that come standard issue in this increasingly formulaic genre. On the upside, however, Jansen provides some worthwhile lyrics, combining world-conscious societal commentary and personal reflections, complemented nicely by the orchestral parts and some tasteful keyboard work. "Energize Me" and "Equally Destructive" are, of course, the accessible, hooky, radio-friendly tracks on offer here (although I’m pretty sure most of the conglomerate-owned radio stations in my area would never play this stuff, save for one weekly late-night metal show that still survives here in Rhode Island); a couple of tracks, such as "Envision," get a little bit thrashy in places; and "Cry With a Smile" demonstrates a commendable command of melody and dynamics.
The band has apparently struggled to bounce back following Mark Jansen’s departure to Epica. This release, however, shows that better days could be ahead for After Forever if they continue to focus on and hone their strengths.
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