After Forever - After Forever
Being one of the scene's longest running outfits, gothic metal maestros After Forever have been consistent for the better part of a decade. Mixing in a grand epic style with more depressive gothic textures (think Blind Guardian or Hammerfall meets Nightwish) is not only does a sensible sound picture make; it's nothing terribly original. We've heard power/symphonic metal acts fusing the two since the early NWOBHM bands first truly began the practice in the late 70's-early 80's. It's very rare in my experience to combine the cheese and the steel in proper doses so as to not have either outweigh the other while continuing to impress with fresh musical ideas in a style that's been more or less stoned to death over the years. After Forever, the band's new self-titled release and their first for a major label (Nuclear Blast) proves up to the task...mostly.
It's apparent, just as it has been on their previous couple of releases, that the death metal roots of After Forever have been severed, for better or worse. More room is inevitably made for sweeping symphonic arrangements, something that'll have to be looked at as a matter of personal taste. Thankfully, never have they been more in control of their songwriting, as most of these 12 (13 if you're lucky enough to snag the edition with bonus track "Lonely") tracks contain all the ingredients for pure headbanging power-metal. Floor Jansen still retains one of the most expressive ranges and truly gifted voices in music period, and it is her talent above all that shines through. Opener "Discord" is a dark number, with an intro reminiscent of a Dimmu Borgir interlude that quickly shifts into a hook-filled monster. Most of the first half of the album contains similar single-ready tracks, all of them well-written and often leaving vibes of Evanescence in their wake. They're just that damn catchy, or perhaps the word is 'refined'...free of frills. Only when they slow down to attempt a more progressive path do we see some cracks in the marble. But they're so few and far between, why point them out? One listen to the 11 minute uber-epic "Dreamflight" will leave your jaw hanging, wondering how 11 minutes can be made to seem like 3.
After years of toiling in near-obscurity, slowly gaining respect and adoration through hard work, word of mouth, sacrifice, roster replacements and a natural-yet-stressful evolution of sound, it's finally looking like After Forever are at that height where one more move in the right direction could equal sky's limits, and one bad one will leave you in the dust. This is their best album yet in terms of satisfying the established fanbase of groups like Lacuna Coil and Nightwish and Evanescence, fans of that particular blend of sound. But are they grasping their own identify, or simply taking the road most traveled? They're teetering on that edge, but it certainly sounds as if they knew that and the level of confidence in the music more than makes up for all of it's similarities and faceless moments.
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