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Hardly 4 months after the release of the mini cd "Exordium", and more than two years after their acclaimed "Decipher", After Forever returns with the third full length album. Well, as many of you should know, the mini cd was the first work of the band after the departure of the guitar player and main composer Mark Jansen (now in Epica). "Exordium" contained 4 new very good songs (besides 2 covers), that showed in After Forever still remained a lot of talent. So this new album was important to confirm (or not) that the new way taken by After Forever went along with the musical quality.
Time ago was already known that the album would be conceptual. The guitar player Sander Gommans had the idea, although all the lyrics have been written by Floor Jansen . The story is about the life of a young girl (14 years old at the beginning of the story) that doesn't receive support neither affection from her parents. They had her when they still were too young, they didn't want to have a baby and the pregnancy was accidental. More concerned about their jobs and of being successful in life, they didn't dedicate time to their daughter's education, so she was always alone, looking for an entertainment in computer games, internet and the television. The songs go counting the girl's experiences as well as the diverse and constant arguments that her parents have.
And what about the musical quality of the album?. Well, the result couldn’t be more spectacular. The composition shows the maturity of a band that had very clear ideas after Mark Jansen's departure. It shows a very big evolution if you compare it with their previous albums: the sound is much more heavy, guitars and bass are much more on the foreground, it’s very aggressive and, at the same time, much more complex, intricate and progressive in its structures, and less gothic and atmospheric. The aspect that still continues in their music is the presence of the beautiful arabic melodies. It’s an album to listen followed and in order, since it’s a concept album, the songs follow a logical order and several tracks are connected to each other. The connection between the lyrics and the music is more than achieved, something important for any conceptual work. This complexity makes that the first listens are difficult and it needs some time to capture all its magic, but believe me, it’s worthwhile.
In the vocals we also find novelties. The main one is the new vocal contribution of Bas Maas, the guitar player; his voice is clear, very nice and adds an interesting touch of variety to the music, participating in 3 songs. Sander’s grunts are more present than ever, aggressive, expressive and doing a perfect job. About Floor Jansen what to say... if she was already a great singer, her work on this album it’s simply awesome: more versatile than ever, powerful, emotional, and owner of some vocal melodies that only a goddess could compose and sing. I really think she’s currently the best female singer in metal. And lastly we have, the same as in their previous albums, a choir (bass, tenor, alto and soprano) that participates in most of the songs. The vocal variety is without a doubt another skill of this album.
About the production… it’s simply perfect. Everything is in their place, and although guitars and bass sound more powerful than ever, the participation of keyboards is abundant, generally accompanying to the guitar riffs. The same as in the previous albums, a string section of 5 members (2 violins, 1 viola and 2 cellos) collaborates in all the songs, adding some really inspired arrangements.
If you thought that you had already finished to read the review, now is time to comment every song one by one
The album begins with a brief track by way of introduction called "Childhood in Minor." A small jewel where we can hear very background the uproar of a group of children accompanied by the notes of something similar to a musical box, something very simple but that it’s able to create a dramatic and startling feeling. It connects directly with the following track, "Beautiful Emptiness", in which we can hear the great verses sung by Floor, with very dense and heavy riffs and an a doomy atmosphere, and a nice, mellow chorus. The second part of the song is very dynamic, full of vertiginous tempo changes, guitar riffs masterfully combined with keyboards and strings and Sander Gommans’ grunts giving the touch of aggressiveness. The lyrics constitutes the girl's reflection about the hate she feels to her parents for not providing her any affection.
Some acoustic guitars take charge of opening "Between Love and Fire", an impressive song with a great catchy chorus, Floor and Sander’s voices alternating in the verses, (interpreting the mother and the father respectively), excellent guitar melodies and a sublime part in which we can hear the voices of the 3 vocalists at the same time (Floor, Sander and Bas). In the middle of the song there’s a narrated fragment that represents the argument the parents had before the dilemma of having a baby.
Without pause it continues with "Sins of Idealism." This song reminds a little more of After Forever’s old style, with a great guitar riff, good keyboards and wonderful vocal melodies. It’s one of the few points in the album in which Floor sings with her operatic voice. It concludes with some beautiful arabic melodies. Here the main character of the story faces her parents, accusing them from the wrong treatment and the lack of affection to which they subject her.
"Eccentric" is a ballad sung with the only support of the piano for splendor of Floor that moves with her interpretation. The lyrics goes in this occasion on the girl's bad whiles in the school, where she’s also rejected by her companions and she feels alone. At the end go appearing the violins, cellos, etc to connect with the following track, "Digital Deceit", governed by a powerful mid-tempo riff and in which is spoken how the girl tries to escape to the reality spending the time in internet . It’s one of the few songs in which doesn’t appear grunts.
"Through Square Eyes" continues the thematic of the previous one, in this occasion with television instead of internet. Musically, it’s simply impressive. The string section, very present, plays arabic melodies creating an enormous drama. The verses are incredible, with Floor and Sander’s voices being superimposed to each other, creating a nice dynamic atmosphere. Without a doubt, and in spite of the fact that all the songs are great, this is one of the best tracks of the album, sublime.
"Blind Pain" contains progressive riffs and it’s the most aggressive song in the album, full of grunts, touches of black metal and a good chorus sung by Floor. The girl is already desperate since its father's hate has grew so much that he attacks her physically. At the end there’s a long spoken part in which the parents are arguing again about these matters.
Some very atypical keyboards in After Forever appear at the beginning of "Two Sides", again with a progressive touch. Bas Maas’ voice appears here for second time in the album, doing a nice performance on the part he sings. “Two Sides” connects directly with "Victim of Choices", the fastest song of the album, a bit in the vein of european power metal (only a bit, hehe), and in which the choirs take a big role. Here a new character enters to the story, the girl's grandmother, who tries to explain to the girl’s father (who is her son) the errors that he has committed with his daughter and, it seems to be, she also committed long time ago with him.
We already come closer at the end of the story, and the main character thinks about how her life has been so far. Musically, "Reflections", the same as its lyrics, summarizes in certain way the whole album, because we can hear on it some melodies that appear on previous songs (always slightly modified), like for example, the guitar melody of "Between Love and Fire" (here played by the strings) or the guitar solo (novelty in After Forever!), which it’s a variation of the vocal melody of "Sins of Idealism." This is the third and last song in which we can hear Bas’ voice.
"Life's Vortex" takes charge of closing the album. It has the perfect atmosphere and feeling to conclude the album, with a slower beginning and a faster second part in which there are great tempo changes. Again some melodies with Arab reminiscences appear, and also some very dense and heavy parts in the vein of doom metal. The fantastic and melancholic chorus serves of glorious conclusion to this great story. The lyrics constitutes a great jump in the time, the protagonist is already 24 years old, she has just been mother and she meditates about how was her childhood, and how that has marked her for the rest of her life.
Don’t forget the wonderful artwork of the album, in digibook format, with a beautiful booklet in which beside each song, we can read fragments of the diary that the girl went writing along her life. This is an album that has everything: originality, strenght, feeling, aggressiveness, delicacy, technique, variety and a really interesting conceptual story. In my modest opinion, this is the best metal album released since several years. Simply perfect in all its aspects. I think all people who likes good music should listen to it.