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After Forever have always kind of gotten a bad rap, or at least a worse one than they deserve, due to a number of different reasons. First and foremost is Mark Jansen, and this one is completely warranted. Seriously, fuck that guy. He can't write music for shit. I freely admit I used to like their 2001 album Decipher when I was younger, and nowadays it seems to me that it's a pretty dull album which draws people in with the flashy violins and the fucking amazing vocal performance of Floor Jansen. The riffs and general songwriting, however, aren't there (except on "Forlorn Hope," which rules). While I don't like the album nearly as much as Empyreal does, he's pretty much got the right idea in that After Forever only got good after Mark Jansen left, and his idea that Mark Jansen is basically the Jon Schaffer of symphonic metal (not sure if he mentions this in any of his reviews, but he has said it before) is pretty much true; recycles the same riffs, doesn't have a good concept of basic songwriting, etc. This fact is even more evident in Epica, which doesn't have the greatness of Floor Jansen to distract you (Simone Simons is a fine singer, but she's nowhere near Floor's league). Mark Jansen simply sucks. 2004's Invisible Circles was the first album post-Mark, but it didn't really seem like Floor had really grown into the songwriting role yet. With 2005's Remagine, we see a vast improvement, with Floor truly coming into her own as a songwriter in addition to vocalist.
Second is that they're often given the frankly mostly misappropriated label of "gothic metal." This is really hardly true at all, I think; they have a darker sound than a lot of power metal bands, and some very minor gothic tendencies, but if you call them gothic metal, you may as well apply that label to any Dark at Dawn album or to Kamelot's The Black Halo; it's really just dark power metal, and that's what they've always been. Not one of their albums is really "gothic metal" at all. They're symphonic power metal, and on their last two albums, the symphonic element is drawn back to the point where I would forego that label entirely and call them simply "power metal." That is really what they are at their core, especially here. Third is the fact that they play europower, which some people (my self included, to a fair extent) see as a problem. If you've read my other reviews, you'll know I'm not the biggest fan of the europower style in general, much more favoring the USPM style. However, when the riffs and songwriting are there, it certainly can't be denied, and that's the case here, not to mention the vocals (which you'll notice I've already been raving about like a fanboy - if any of you were hoping that would end by now, you may want to just stop here).
Simply put, Floor Jansen is, if not the best, certainly and unequivocally one of the top 5 female vocalists in all of metal. You'll notice I didn't say one of the best vocalists in power metal, or symphonic metal - yes, that's right, one of the 5 best in all of metal. Some may not like her, and that's fine, but she's one of the objectively greatest vocalists out there; her sheer range, versatility, and power simply cannot be denied. She shifts in and out of vocal styles with ease, from her usual rock/metal voice to the lighter, softer tone she uses on ballads, to the operatic tone she employs in certain parts. She also has incredible range, hitting some pretty damn high notes as well as low, and her power is fucking insane, belting out lines with the best of them - if you even remotely doubt this, listen to "Face Your Demons" on this very album - there's a part in the middle where she lets loose so strongly I had to go back and listen to it again the first time I heard it. She is just utterly unparalleled and masterful.
However, she does appear on all of the After Forever albums, so your question may be what specifically separates this album from the pack. I've mentioned the riffs and general songwriting, and I'll get into that further now. I'll first point to Decipher as an example, as it tends to be the band's most respected album, and is also the one of the two from the Mark Jansen era with which I'm more familiar. The violins there are cool, the vocal lines are cool, and hell, there are even fucking horns at times - and I will credit Mark Jansen with the fact that he's a pretty decent growler - but the riffs simply aren't there. They aren't completely absent, but they do take a major backseat to the vocals and orchestration, and they're usually extremely basic - take the first riff in "Monolith of Doubt," for instance. It sounds sorta cool, but it's incredibly simplistic, and it's repeated for far too long. That's one of the better riffs from that album, really; take "Emphasis," whose main riff isn't even a little bit cool the first time you hear it, and is, if anything, even more basic than the one from "Monolith of Doubt." Really it's just a non-riff-based album trying to be metal, and it fails pretty hard; it would be much better without any guitars at all, I think. "Remagine" has none of those issues.
Okay, so I've compared it to "Decipher," but to those of you not familiar with that album, you still don't have much idea what I'm talking about. So let's get to what the riffs actually sound like. They're not particularly complex or aggressive - I mean hell, this is still europower, like it or not - but a good 3/4 of the riffs here wipe the floor with Mark Jansen's ass, despite being pretty simple and catchy. They're also not overused; sometimes they are repetitive, but only when they're really fucking good, good enough that you're not sick of them after 2 minutes, much less 6. Take the main riff of "Boundaries Are Open"; it's fairly simple, but it's also very headbangable, is used in tandem with a strong chorus, and isn't played ad nauseam - the song is under 4 minutes, and it's not the only riff there, either. There are also some more interesting, pretty ingenious riffs, like the first one on "Only Everything" following the acoustic intro - this one is even simpler, played in a weird, sort of digital-sounding guitar tone, but it fucking rules in the context, and it's unlike much else I've heard in metal. The more "metal" version of the riff which appears after the chorus is also fantastic, showing that it's a legitimately good riff, not just a gimmick. Aside from the riffs themselves, it's also just the fact that the songs are well-written; the riffs accompany well-suited vocal lines, the different sections flow into each other very well, Floor has a very strong sense of which "voice" to use in which section ("normal," soft, or operatic), and the songs have an overall feel of strong coherence. What more could one really ask for?
There are weaker songs here, but not many; "Forever" is the only one I'd call truly bad, which, considering we have 11 full songs here, is a pretty damn good track record. "No Control" isn't great either, with the verses being pretty terrible, but the chorus is somehow legitimately good, despite the song not actually featuring Floor at all; it sounds, of all things, like early Dark Tranquillity, specifically "The Gallery," especially the keyboard line that runs under the guitar. Guitarist Sander Gommans isn't great on harsh vocals, but he's at least serviceable; the other guitarist Bas Maas (isn't he a Star Wars character?) is frankly godawful on the song's clean vocal section, but it's luckily brief. The song isn't very good overall, but that chorus is really cool, at least. Otherwise, I really wouldn't fault any of the songs terribly much, with only minor songwriting issues here and there, like something dragging on just slightly too long, a transition being just the eensiest bit jarring, etc. Even the ballad is "Strong" (yes, that works both as the name of the song and as an adjective to describe it), with Floor putting in a very heartfelt and believable performance.
One more song I'll point out is "Free of Doubt," which is often overlooked for some reason but is my favorite song on the album aside from the super epic "Only Everything." "Free of Doubt" pretty much has the whole package - really cool keyboard line, amazing main riff (which does a sort of riff harmony that is almost - but not quite - on par with the type of thing you'd hear from Olbrich/Siepen of Blind Guardian), the vocal lines also harmonize perfectly, the chorus has an amazing operatic performance from Floor which segues is perfectly from the verses and works very well in the context; really there's nothing wrong with this song - it's perfect (really, I guess I'd put it on par with "Only Everything"). Even the drumming is noticeably cool here, something I'd never expect to be saying for europower (kudos, Andre Borgman!). With amazing tracks like this and "Only Everything," several tracks that are still quite strong like "Boundaries are Open," "Being Everyone," and "Face Your Demons" and only 2 songs that aren't too hot, this is one of the greatest europower albums of all time to me, and one I'd highly suggest any fan of europower or particularly of power metal in general check it out. Floor is amazing here as usual, and it does not disappoint.
After Forever were not a band I thought I'd enjoy. See, I'm not so much into all of these female fronted symphonic bands. I find Nightwish to be rather mediocre, and Epica just bored me to tears. There's something different about the modern incarnation of After Forever, though. Gone are the flowery, frigid arrangements and most of the cliches they exploited on previous efforts, and in are ushered rock-solid tunes with catchy choruses and hooks and charms that will work their magic on you before you know it, with perhaps the best female vocals of this style I've ever heard. Maybe it was the loss of primary songwriter Mark Jansen that spurred this renaissance of songwriting power and instrumental proficiency? Whatever your explanation is, you'd have to be a damn fool to deny the majesty that is Remagine.
It's a magical album, this one. I don't know how they did it. Everything just sort of flows here, so it's pointless to pick at the guitar tone or the drumming style or anything, because it all gels into one collective whole that will floor you, back up and then do it again. The opening "Come" features jaw-dropping vocal melodies, with Floor Jansen switching from a boastful sort of chest voice to a more operatic style that just works, and all the while you have the guitars rumbling and rolling in the background, along with some light symphonic keys here and there. I like how this album actually has balls. It doesn't just put the double bass drums on high and start blasting away third rate Iced Earth riffs underneath all the fluff, but rather puts to use rocky, solid riffs and drumming that can crush skulls, and the result is something that most "symphonic" metal bands couldn't even dream of.
And they have songs that actually progress from beginning to end, rather than just repeating bland over-produced chorii for four minutes underneath a bouncy fanfare. "Only Everything," for instance, starts off as a slow, synth-infested number, but gradually builds up into a crescendo of metal glory. "Face Your Demons" might be my favorite song on here, with its charging tempo and headstrong, soulful vocal performance, not to mention some of the more complex guitar work on display. And the closing "Forever" serves as a foreboding and ominous outro to an album filled with gems.
After Forever can also write a catchy pop tune and still make it as wondrous and magical as their more complex tunes. "Being Everyone," for example, is a fantastic song, with some of the most memorable lines Floor has sung to date, and don't forget the soaring power of "Boundaries are Open." The touching little ballad "Strong" is a particularly poignant tune, alternating between soft, lush piano sections and louder ones, flowered with the same guitar wizardry that makes the rest of the album so good. "Attendance" is a cold, pounding industrialized tune, and it does well for what it is, and then you have "Living Shields" with its pert growling vocals to compliment Floor's angelic ones. An old trick, but hey, who says it can't still work?
Just go get this right now. Seriously, you need it.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
After four amazing releases (three full-lengths and one EP), I was positive that After Forever can never fail to impress me. However, I was proven wrong after a year with the release of "Remagine"; an album undermining Floor's singing talent and the band's potential of creating wonderful, heavy music.
The sound on "Remagine" differs a lot from your typical After Forever music. Here, instead of gothic metal, we're presented with a blend of industrial and progressive metal. Guitars are much heavier than on "Invisible Circles" and keyboards take a turn to the electronic side. I know it sounds pretty good, but it just doesn't work. Songs tend to sound a lot alike and the music tends to get a bit poppy sometimes (particularly in a few intros).
Floor's vocals are also different here. Although she impressed me in a few songs, she's not as great as she was on "Invisible Circles". On "Attendance" and "Forever" she manages to sing with emotion, yet she fails to do so in the other ten tracks of the album. On the other hand, Sander still manages to sing with the same power as he did on "Invisible Circles". In songs like "Living Shields" and "No Control" his growls are astounding. Even the clean male vocals deliver the same emotion as on "Invisible Circles". It's just Floor who disappointed me a bit. However, it's not entirely her fault, since the bland and repetitive lyrics make it hard for her to sing with any kind of emotion.
The choirs here are also reduced. If I remember correctly, they are only heard on "Come", "Living Shields", "Being Everyone" and "Attendance". However, they are only heard abundantly on "Come" and "Living Shields" (they're only backing on "Being Everyone" and they don't have a lot of lines on "Attendance). Although After Forever never put emphasis on choirs, I feel that they could've played a slightly bigger of the music. However, the few lines that the choirs have are sung excellently.
Out of twelve songs, only three deserve a 10/10. These are "Living Shields", "Attendance" and "Forever". However, "Come", "Being Everyone" and "Free of Doubt" are also very good tracks. The rest of the songs aren't very interesting and I always end up skipping them (although I don't mind the intro "Enter"). My favorite track is "Living Shields" due to the frequent choir involvement.
In conclusion I think that "Remagine" was a bit rushed. It contains a lot of filler-tracks which could've been easily left out. However, it isn't a horrible album. Fans will be definitely disappointed, but it's still in the tolerable zone. I won't recommend this to anyone, but I'd be lying if I said that I regret buying it.