Gildan's Guide to Good Music
The world of music is a vast ocean of crap - join me on a voyage to the tiny isolated islands of excellence.
As the tagline not so subtly suggests, it's really easy to find terrible music - you have but to turn on your radio, and lo, bad music abounds. The good stuff though, well that's rarely quite so easy to find, and while some popular music actually deserves the accolades it receives, most excellent music languishes in comparative obscurity. And that's where I come in!
What I aim to accomplish with these articles is to showcase quality albums from bands you've never heard of, in the hopes that at least one of the comparative handful of people who actually read my rambling and
rampantly egotistical definitely quite humble reviews has found them useful.
Tonight I've finally gotten around to writing about the album I had originally planned on making my second entry in this series, but have kept putting off for a variety of reasons. But I'm talking about it now!
Musical Genre: Symphonic Metal (with strong Progressive leanings)
Running Time: 58 minutes
# of Tracks: 12
Particularly noteworthy songs: Discord, Evoke, Cry With a Smile
If you were unfamiliar with After Forever, you might guess that this is their debut album based on the title - you would be wrong of course, but it's a logical guess: this is actually their last album. Having garnered critical acclaim (in Europe, they're basically unknown in my neck of the woods) ever since their 2000 debut album Prison Of Desire while being plagued with poor label support, line-up shifts and external complications, this was their first and last release on their new label; the eponymous title is a reflection of the band's attempts to clearly redefine themselves in the wake of all those factors. As the band itself no longer exists, it was obviously an attempt that did not succeed - which is a shame, for reasons I'm about to explain.
If you've read all my other reviews, you might have noticed a few
blatantly obvious totally subtle hints that I am enamored with vocalist Jorn Lande, who I've insinuated is my favorite vocalist ever. What you probably haven't gleaned, because I don't believe I've ever brought it up until now, is that there exists a female equivalent to the esteemed Jorn in my mind, a woman who can do no wrong, whose very presence in any project will compel me to love it utterly for entirely rational reasons.
That woman is Floor Jansen, and as you've almost certainly guessed, she was the lead vocalist in this band.
Hailing from the Netherlands, After Forever was a symphonic metal band that merged Gothic, Progressive, and Death/Doom elements into an increasingly symphonic whole as their discography progressed. Unlike their Dutch contemporaries Within Temptation, who flirted with the "beauty and the beast" vocal contrast of clean female singing paired with ominous male growling on their debut album before abandoning it altogether on their subsequent releases, After Forever stuck with that aspect of their roots throughout their discography - prior to Floor joining the band in '97 and their sound taking a turn for the symphonic to showcase her soprano voice, they had been a death metal outfit calling themselves Apocalypse.
Which is not to say that you should expect to hear harsh vocals on every track, or that they share equal prominence with Floor's singing, as neither is the case; of the 12 tracks, you'll only find growling on about a third of them, and unlike bands like Epica - an operatic symphonic metal band formed by After Forever's former lead guitarist and primary composer - the growling never feels tacked on or silly when it is present. Floor is very much the star of the show, as well she should be!
On their earlier albums Floor mainly used her operatic delivery, which unfortunately led to accusations that they were just ripping off Nightwish's Tarja-era sound, given both groups were superficially similar in composition if not execution. This time around she mostly sticks to her 'rock' voice, with the operatic delivery confined to a few tracks and the moments when she's singing with the backing choir (you're pretty much obligated to have choirs in this sub-genre), and it's a stronger album for it. That she can actually sing in a variety of styles is just one of the many reasons I rate her so highly as a vocalist.
The rest of the music is about what you might expect from a symphonic metal act, though noticeably more restrained and focused than some of their contemporaries - they still have a choir and the Prague Symphony Orchestra accompanying them of course, but those flourishes are used with more moderation than most bands in this sub-genre would employ. In any other symphonic metal outfit I might have considered that a detraction, as I love me some bombast - it's pretty much the reason symphonic metal is so cool - but here that restraint leaves all the more room for Floor to shine, and the result kicks ass.
But don't take my word for it!
I wanted to show you Discord and Evoke, as they provide examples of Floor's differing vocal deliveries and songs with/without any growls, but the folks who uploaded Evoke to YouTube provided me with unbearably tinny results, so my sensibilities forced me to go with Withering Time instead - the disadvantage there is that both of my example songs now have growling in them, which sort of undermines my attempt to point out that most songs on the album are growl-free. But considering how I, an avowed non-fan of harsh vocals in general, actually enjoy them on this album, I'm not too worried about that detail driving potential listeners off.
And thus another chapter in my Guide is complete - I'd put something witty or at least witty in a bad light if you squint here like I usually do, but it's currently 4AM and I'm practically falling asleep at the keys, egad! So if you could just imagine I typed something like that here, that would be great. Oh, if it turns out you enjoy Floor's performance as much as I do, you should check out her new band ReVamp, which just released their first album this month.
*Scarpers off to catch what little sleep he can before the tyrannous sun's inevitable reemergence demands he arise once more, blargh*
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