You want heavy? Give After Forever a try. Heavy in concept, heavy in production and especially heavy in delivery, After Forever's third full length album may just be their best CD to date. The Dutch progressive metal act pull out all the stops for a complex, near masterpiece of musical theater that will leave you positively drained.
Invisible Circles tells the story of an abusive family as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Mercilessly teased at school for her inability to fit in and frequently derided by her parents as an unwanted child, "The Queen" slips into her imaginary world of videogames, books and television. She eventually grows up to become just like her parents, unbeknownst to the girl until she has a child of her own, hence the Invisible Circles tag. As depressing as the subject matter is, the music is bursting with energy and complexity. In fact, one really needs to hear the CD a few times before coming to grips with its deceptively simple songs.
After Forever's chief instrument has always been Floor Jansen's amazing classically trained voice and she does a wonderful job at conveying the girl's emotions. She can whisper and sigh with vulnerability or raise things to a fever pitch in her delivery of anger and frustration.
Guitarist and "growler" Sander Gommans once again complements Floor Jansen with his death metal vocals. I've never been the biggest fan of this style of singing, but I've always enjoyed how After Forever employ it. The death metal vocalizing becomes a necessary component to the story, especially when detailing the violent relationship of the parents.
As intense as the music becomes, the symphonic keyboards, the "After Forever Orchestra" and the "After Forever Choir" frequently enter to smooth things out. As you can imagine, this makes for an extremely lush and involving production, but at no point do I feel that the arrangements are too over the top.
The only significant criticism I can level at the entire album involves the two instances of spoken dialogue. The most offensive example comes in "Between Love and Fire" because the song is literally paused to carry out an exchange between the mother and father. Unfortunately, the intrusive dialogue calls even more attention to itself because it is delivered so poorly. "Blind Pain" also has some (vulgar) dialogue but at least it arrives after the song proper has played itself out. As the plot concerns itself almost exclusively with the internal world of the protagonist, the dialogue between the parents is completely unnecessary and unintentionally humorous.
Everything else about Invisible Circles is just about perfect. The booklet contains excerpts from the girl's diary, a nice touch, making it easy to follow the storyline and once again illuminating the pointlessness of the spoken passages. But do not let that dissuade you from hearing what is perhaps the best progressive metal album of the year. After Forever just keep getting better and better and I am sure that Invisible Circles will stand as one of their stellar achievements.
- Childhood in Minor (1:21)
- Beautiful Emptiness (5:25)
- Between Love and Fire (4:57)
- Sins of Idealism (5:21)
- Eccentric (4:11)
- Digital Deceit (5:38)
- Through Square Eyes (6:23)
- Blind Pain (6:47)
- Two Sides (4:34)
- Victim of Choices (3:22)
- Reflections (5:11)
- Life's Vortex (5:53)
Total Time 59:04