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After Forever: Invisible Circles

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.

Track Listing

  1. Childhood in Minor (1:21)
  2. Beautiful Emptiness (5:25)
  3. Between Love and Fire (4:57)
  4. Sins of Idealism (5:21)
  5. Eccentric (4:11)
  6. Digital Deceit (5:38)
  7. Through Square Eyes (6:23)
  8. Blind Pain (6:47)
  9. Two Sides (4:34)
  10. Victim of Choices (3:22)
  11. Reflections (5:11)
  12. Life's Vortex (5:53)

Total Time 59:04

Added: February 17th 2006
Reviewer: Steve Pettengill
Related Link: Official After Forever Website
Hits: 3400
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

After Forever: Invisible Circles
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-02-17 06:18:33
My Score:

After Forever teased fans with what they were capable of on Exordium; now with Invisible Circles we get a better idea of the kind of power that this group holds in its hand. The band is labeled as Melodic Dark Metal and this fits especially well based on the lyrical storyline that is the basis of the album. The Soprano that is Floor Janses blends her amazing voice with the sad topics of loss, hardship and disappointment in one's self. Behind her is a forceful group of talented musicians made up of Ben Maas (guitar, vocals), Sanders Gommans (guitars, grunts), Luuk Van Gerven (bass), Lando Van Gils (synths) and Andre Borgman (drums).

The 6 member band has a full and in your face sound based on their musical abilities and the varied style of vocals presented during the songs. Both Sanders and Ben offer Floor accompaniment during the songs to some good result. Lead Singer Floor Jansen is stunning in her looks and a hurricane with her vocal prowess. One thing I felt when I heard her sing was a commanding power that is unlike the group's peers in Nightwish and Epica (also Dutch and led by former After Forever guitarist Mark Jansen). The piece wastes no time in showing you that After Forever means business with the rousing "Beautiful Emptiness" and it begins the tale of a young girl, a child of loveless parents. The enclosed booklet allows you to get the whole story in a lot more detail throughout its 16 pages. The story itself has some interesting moments but the dialogue between the central characters that is blended in some of the songs takes a little bit away from it. The level of some of this seems distant, and my guess was they wanted you to feel this was being overheard from a distance. That kind of perceptions is better left for video or television since an album makes you question your hearing or the recording process. I think that to make this a better concept album, the dialogue should have been less prevalent and perhaps spread out more between the songs..

There are a number of solid tunes on the album. One of my favorites is not heavy at all, but is a slow piano piece by Floor alone, entitled "Eccentric". During this tune, we get to see a softer side of Floor and just how beautiful her voice is when used in this fashion. Some fans might be reminded of when Amy Lee of Evanescence does this type of thing, however I feel that Floor has a better overall presence.

Musically interesting at many points, I feel listeners will take to tracks like "Through Square Eyes" and "Blind Pain", mainly for the different changes in time and technical ability displayed. After Forever has a few good points in their favor and they do not sound like a Nightwish clone. This allows you to absorb their music and not feel like you have heard this somewhere before. Invisible Circles is the group's third full-length release and I believe this sets them apart from other groups who are fronted by powerful female vocalists. Check them out.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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