After Forever - Invisible Circles

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Transmission Records
Catalog Number: TME-045
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:56:00

The world's greatest "Beauty & the Beast" band is back with their finest disc and performance to date. Period. That could end the actual review, because when you are After Forever, and you release disc of this caliber all you need to use is the word "great" and most of the people in the world who know this band would nod in agreement. For those not in the know, After Forever leads the genre so affectionately called "Beauty & The Beast" style metal in which a female singer is accompanied by a "growler," who is also (in some twisted way) revered by this crowd as well. The female, in this case, Floor Jansen, just happens to be the best female vocalist in this style as well, possibly the best in the metal world today.

After Forever started off as a slow, plodding Gothic Metal band, releasing the critically acclaimed Prison Of Desire, which brought many a new listener and doubter into this genre which, up until about this time, was practically unheard of. Their next disc, Decipher, brought them even more listeners, more praise, and moved themselves into more of a symphonic / Gothic / power metal style, which most praised and some worried about. Floor Jansen, however, became even more popular during this time and continued to establish herself as the best female singer in the world and the band saw themselves gaining strength and popularity with each passing day. The band quieted down a bit after this period, losing an essential band member along the way, and Floor Jansen doing some side projects as well. A few singles and EPs were released in between this period of time, and some of the bands' followers wondered what would happen next to this band, and what surprise would they have for us this time? Enter, Invisible Circles.

Sporting a new look, new sound, and a new attitude, After Forever transformed themselves once again into our favorite "Beauty & the Beast" band without even skipping a beat and slipping in a new style and sound right under our own ears. Catching us by surprised, the band moved into a more symphonic / power metal style. The band even changed their looks by replacing the Goth look with a more modern, almost sci-fi look. Instead of abstract, surreal, Gothic-style lyrics as in the past, the band turned to a more "real" theme that plagues much of the world. Kicking it into high gear, the band took all of their new traits, and created sort of a "metal Broadway show," complete with characters, narration, and drama. Quickly, the theme involves a little girl, who was born unwanted, and basically was treated as though she wasn't really there, and kept a diary on her life (which the band reveals to us in the CD insert). A very sad and real theme, After Forever brings this story to us in such a dramatic way, it is hard not to believe this isn't really happening, that's it only music and a story, but Floor Jansen once again goes one step further and transforms herself into the main character, telling the sad, tragic story of the little girl who was left alone in the world unloved.

Musically, the band simply takes symphonic power metal, injects some progressive moments, adds a myriad of dramatic passages, soft acoustical parts and intros, choirs, strings, and just about anything else they could throw into the mix. The result, a massive sound that just pummels the senses with power and melody that is unmatched. At any given moment, the band is quiet, lulling the listener into the story with soft, keyboard-led intros, and the next moment the band has already kicked into the song with a battery of power guitar crunch that just begs for headbangers to do their thing. The strings and choirs add an already eerie feeling to the sadness, sending the listener into many emotions, which constantly change as the disc proceeds on. One aspect that the band never forgets or leaves out is the glorious melodies that surround each song and fill the story with the emotion that it needs to tell the tale of tragedy.

Leading the way through all of this tragedy is the beautiful, soaring vocals of Floor Jansen. Heralded to some as the greatest female metal singer in the world, she is normally known for her genuinely operatic style of singing. In the past, she has melted us with her soft, touching, silky smooth voice and then at other times dazzling us with her opera-style approach, reaching notes that no other could dream of doing within this style of music. On ?Invisible Circles?, she has mostly abandoned that opera style and concentrated on a more powerful approach, a more convincing approach to bring the child to life. Quietly "singing" the sad story to us, powerfully screaming out as the child would in moments of frustration, and calmly telling the story, Floor transforms herself into every human emotion and brilliantly brings them to us in the vocal performance of a lifetime. Complementing Floor is the ever-present "Beast," who is placed strategically at places that need emotional emphasis, and never overdoes it. Simply put, the emotion is brought to us via the vocal performances in a truly convincing manner. One actually "feels" the pain of the little girl through Floor's voice.

The production is also a departure from traditional After Forever sounds. In the past, their discs have been laced with polish, covered with a smooth, silky wall of sound that just melted the ears. Guitars have been a bit more restrained as well, and Floor's voice has also been covered with a veil of polish to accent the beauty. However, on Invisible Circles, the polish has been lifted in favor of a more raw / aggressive sound that reveals the true power of both voice and instruments. More emphasis has been placed on the high end of the spectrum, almost an ear-piercing sound at that. The low end is still prominent, but that veil of polish has been lifted, almost as if to emphasize the naked emotions of the story. This works well and between the vocal performances and this ?new? sound, the story becomes as real as ever and it is virtually impossible not to actually immerse yourself into this story and feel sad for this little girl who has been brought to life by After Forever. If you're wondering by now what actually happens to this little girl, you'll have to hear for yourself.

All is not perfect, however, and as brilliant a disc as this is (it was my #1 for 2004), it has a flaw. There are some narrated parts on the disc, between the parents of the child. The parents argue before and after the child is born, and while this is a great addition to the story, the persons chosen for this job actually detract from the brilliance of the disc. While the female voice is tolerable, the male voice chosen for this part is about as bad as it gets for narration. If anyone remembers the terrible narration from the Rhapsody discs, After Forever has chosen Jay Lansford to do their voice-overs as well. In what many deem the worst narration ever on a disc, luckily we are only treated to only a few minutes of his pretty unconvincing arguments with the mother of the child. Whether or not it is his voice, his style, or his inability to deliver emotion doesn't matter - what matters is that he does ruin an otherwise brilliant disc, and other than that universally stated flaw, the rest of the disc is as good as it gets. This is without a doubt Floor Jansen at her best, After Forever at their best, and this disc shows why they have been at the top of the heap in this genre, and will continue to be with performances like this one.

Anyone who has never heard this style of music owes it to himself or herself to go directly to this disc for an example of the best this style has to offer. Even if you don't like the "Beast," you will melt over the goddess-like vocals of Floor Jansen, and her performance is worth the price of the disc alone. Other than the small flaw of narration, this disc is otherwise perfection. Nothing even comes close.

Childhood in Minor / Beautiful Emptiness / Between Love & Fire / Sins of Idealism / Eccentric / Digital Deceit / Through Square Eyes / Blind Pain / Two Sides / Victim of Choices / Reflections / Life's Vortex

Floor Jansen - vocals
Bas Maas - guitar
Sander Gommans - guitar
Luuk Van Gerven - bass
Lando Van Gils - keyboards
Andre Borgman - drums

Ephemeral (1999)
Wings Of Illusion (1999, demo)
Prison Of Desire (2000)
Follow In The Cry (2000) (CD single)
Decipher (2001)
Emphasis (2001) (CD single)
Monolith Of Doubt (2002) (CD single)
Exordium (2003, EP)
My Choice (2003) (CD single)
Invisible Circles (2004)

Genre: Progressive/Power Metal

Origin NL

Added: March 27th 2005
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri
Artist website:
Hits: 1419
Language: english


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