Chapter A: Mea Culpa "The Embrace That Smothers - Prologue" (1:59), Leaden Legacy "The Embrace That Smothers - Part I" (5:09), Semblance Of Confusion (4:07), Black Tomb (6:28), Follow In The Cry "The Embrace That Smothers - Part II" (4:04). Chapter B: Silence From Afar (5:51), Inimical Chimera (4:59), Tortuous Threnody (6:12), Ephemeral (3:04). Chapter C: Yield To Temptation "The Embrace That Smothers - Part III" (5:54), Beyond Me (6:22), Wings Of Illusion - Non-Album Track (7:22). Chapter D: Mea Culpa - Session Version (2:01), Semblance Of Confusion - Session Version (4:06), Black Tomb - Session Version (6:29), Leaden Legacy - Session Version (5:04), Follow In The Cry – Session Version (1:20)
Prison Of Desire, the impressive debut album by Dutch symphonic metallers After Forever, originally appeared in 2000 as a single CD. A 2CD version subtitled The Album – The Sessions appeared in 2008, and now we have this: a 2LP re-mastered Expanded Edition.
Despite the limited playing time available on each side of a 12" LP (around 25 to 30 minutes), in addition to the original album, which takes up most of the first 3 sides (or Chapters A, B and C as they're labelled here), you get an additional song, plus on side 4 the Session Versions. As a compromise, the playing order of Ephemeral and Yield To Temptation has been reversed in order to balance the playing time more evenly across sides 2 and 3.
As an aside, it's worth noting that the least amount of playing time on each side of a vinyl disc the wider the grooves and therefore the better the sound quality. That's why 12" vinyl singles were so popular during the 70s and 80s. Weight also matters; these particular discs are a healthy 180 grams each: so it's not so much heavy metal as heavy plastic.
It's fair to say that Prison Of Desire is one of the most ambitious debut albums in the gothic, symphonic metal canon. The line-up of Floor Jansen (vocals), Mark Jansen (guitars), Sander Gommans (guitars, grunts), Luuk van Gerven (bass), Jack Driessen (synths), Joep Beckers (drums) and the choir, was undoubtedly the template for Epica, the band Mark Jansen would form just two years later.
In addition to other Dutch acts like Epica, Within Temptation and Ayreon, there are elements of Nightwish (where Floor Jansen currently resides as lead singer), Opeth, Threshold, Dream Theater and even Black Sabbath, whose song After Forever (on the 1971 Masters Of Reality album) inspired the band's name.
Highlights include the operatic opener Mea Culpa, the gothic Semblance Of Confusion and the closing duet Beyond Me, where Floor's soaring soprano is joined by the more neutral rock-chic voice of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation). The best of the bonus tracks is the mini-epic Wings Of Illusion, although the "Session versions" are also very listenable, despite being labelled as "Rough mixes" on the album cover. I can even forgive Gommans for his growled vocals, although to my ears they're an unnecessary distraction.
Given that I hold this album in such high regard, plus my passion for black plastic, I was understandably delighted when this particular release came my way. Soundwise, as is often the case with vinyl, what you loss in detail and clarity compared with a CD, you make up for with weight and scale. Vinyl and metal enthusiasts will certainly not be disappointed.
To my ears, time hasn't diminished the impact or appeal of Prison Of Desire, which remains one of the key albums of the gothic, symphonic metal genre. It's a pity then, that in 2009 after four more excellent albums, After Forever decided to call it a day. Thanks to record labels like Transmission, and releases like these however, their music lives on. Power and pomp in equal measures, what more could you ask for?
CD 1: Chapter 1 - The Album: Enter (1:06), Come (5:02), Boundaries Are Open (3:45), Living Shields (4:11), Being Everyone (3:39), Attendance (3:26), Free Of Doubt (4:40), Only Everything (6:33), Strong (3:38), Face Your Demons (4:57), No Control (3:17), Forever (5:10). Bonus tracks: Being Everyone (3:09)- single version, Taste The Day (Remagine) (2:55)- non-album track, Being Everyone (3:23)- acoustic version, Face Your Demons (4:59)- alternative version feat Marko Hietala, Live And Learn (4:24)- non-album track, Strong (3:41)- piano version
CD 2: Chapter 2 - The Sessions: Enter (1:06), Come (5:06), Being Everyone (3:41), Forever (5:21), Live And Learn (The Key Part 2) (4:42), Boundaries Are Open (3:46), Free Of Doubt (4:40), Taste The Day (Remagine) (3:00), Attendance (3:26), Only Everything (6:34), No Control (3:17), Living Shields (4:10), Strong (3:40), Face Your Demons (4:57) Bonus tracks: Two Sides (3:17)- alternative version, Boundaries Are Open (3:30)- single version, Attendance (3:04)- industrial remix
A few months ago there was a TV program on Dutch television entitled De Reünie (The Reunion). It was the reunion of some students of the Rock Academy in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Only a few students have made a successful career in music after attending this Academy. Two of them are well known just in the Netherlands, but one of them, Floor Jansen, has a much larger audience. Being the present lead vocalist of the Finnish band Nightwish, she's been touring around the world for some time now. The program gave us an interesting peek into a period in her life when she had some personal problems. Fortunately she has outgrown these problems and is now the powerwoman in charge of the vocals in one of the world's leading gothic, progressive metal bands. Perhaps not all people now that she used to be lead vocalist in one of the best Dutch gothic rock bands called After Forever. The Netherlands have quite a reputation in that genre, with female fronted bands such as Within Temptation, Epica and Delain.
Their album Remagine was originally released in 2005 and has been released again at the end of 2015 with some alternative versions of album tracks and some non-album tracks as well. Maybe not very interesting for someone who already has the album in their record collection, but if you're a massive fan of the Finnish giants and want to know what Floor did before she joined their ranks, or have just discovered After Forever, this is money well spent. Her classically-trained soprano voice is used in many variations, and is sometimes accompanied by the occasional grunt by guitarist Sander Gommans. It's clear why the guys from Nightwish were very keen to ask her to become their new singer.
Especially on the tracks Only Everything and Forever her voice is very powerful and intense. On the track Strong we can hear a different approach. Her voice sounds very delicate, and we also can hear a very melodic guitar solo on this track. If you are addicted to female-fronted gothic rock and fan of the aforementioned bands don't hesitate to buy this album, because the band doesn't exist any more and it's unlikely they will ever release new music. This is a nice memory of one of the best gothic rock bands The Netherlands ever had.
Suckerpunch (4:10), Turn the Lights Out (4:15), Don't Let Go (Alternative Version) (3:57), Lullaby (Live 2015) (5:15), Stardust (Live 2015) (4:13), Here Come the Vultures (Live 2015) (5:40), Army of Dolls (Live 2015) (5:27), Suckerpunch (Orchestral Version) (2:31)
Delain is a Dutch metal outfit tinged by gothic, bombastic, and commercial elements. This year, Delain is celebrating its tenth anniversary (despite some personnel changes), in which time the band has released several CDs, three of which were recommended on DPRP, along with a fairly vigorous schedule touring across Europe.
As it did before, with its Interlude EP, the band has released another short stop-gap album, to maintain momentum between full-length releases. The new EP is comprised of two new songs (one of which is presented in two versions), four live cuts, and a re-done production of a previously released song.
To my ears, Delain provides predictable female-fronted progressive metal. The sound is melodic but rough. It's busy overall but lacking in variety or peaks. As expected from this genre, forceful and foundational guitar riffs rapidly repeat in cahoots with machine-gun-like drum strikes. The vocals are nothing special but nothing objectionable and are prominent throughout, tending to direct the tunes (along with the occasional guitar lead).
Reviewers of the band's music seem unable to resist references to Within Temptation, understandable given that Delain's keyboardist used to be in that band. At times, the more-metal (and less interesting) aspects of German band Blacklands also come to mind.
The tunes on this mini album mostly bleed into each other, which in this case doesn't speak well of the compositional strength. The two new tunes, Suckerpunch and Turn the Lights Out, are mostly uneventful and in-the-box numbers, as described above, although you might bob your head a few times during the part-pop opening track. For the most part, the live tunes have greater appeal and freshness (but for the too-evil Here Come the Vultures), and it may well be that in a live setting, the band's music and energy engender some excitement.
So, here we have capable musicianship, adequate singing, and overall, fine representations of progressive metal. Existing fans of this long-standing band will, given the mish-mash of studio and live music, very likely find something to like on this release. But there's a paucity of real hooks or highs that might draw new listeners to either Delain or the genre.
CD 1: Chapter 1: Hunab K'u 'A New Age Dawns – Prologue' (1:44), Dance of Fate (5:13), The Last Crusade 'A New Age Dawns – 1' (4:23), Solitary Ground (4:21), Blank Infinity (4:00), Force of the Shore (4:01), Quietus (3:45), Mother of Light 'A New Age Dawns – 2' (5:55), Trois Vierges (4:40), Another Me (In Lack' Ech) (4:39), Consign to Oblivion 'A New Age Dawns – 3' (9:45), Bonus Tracks: Palladium (2:34), Solitary Ground – Remix (3:09), Crystal Mountain (4:49)
CD 2: Chapter 2: Dance of Fate 'Orchestral Version' (5:16), The Last Crusade 'Orchestral Version' (4:20), Solitary Ground 'Orchestral Version' (4:23), Blank Infinity 'Orchestral Version' (4:02), Force of the Shore 'Orchestral Version' (4:03), Quietus 'Orchestral Version' (3:52), Mother of Light 'Orchestral Version' (5:57), Trois Vierges 'Orchestral Version' (4:41), Another Me (In Lack' Ech) 'Orchestral Version' (4:39), Consign to Oblivion 'Orchestral Version' (9:47), Solitary Ground 'Single Version' (4:06), Linger 'Piano Version' (4:19), Quietus (Silent Reverie) 'Single Version' (3:56)
When it was originally released back in 2005, the DPRP roundtable reviews for Consign to Oblivion were unanimously positive. It was the all-important second release from Dutch masters of female-fronted metal, following their well received 2003 debut The Phantom Agony.
For this tenth anniversary "Expanded Edition" the album has been re-titled Chapter 1 and comes with an additional disc (unsurprisingly called Chapter 2), which offers a wealth of bonus tracks and new liner notes, all housed in an elaborate, fold-out digipak.
Consign to Oblivion was a pretty ambitious undertaking to begin with. The six members of Epica are supported by a string octet and a seven-piece choir. Take those ingredients, and give it a fresh, re-mastered sound, and the end result is female-fronted symphonic metal as it should be: loud, bombastic and tuneful.
On first impressions singer Simone Simons has a pleasant, but not especially strong voice. However when she gets into her operatic stride, for example during Quietus, she really impresses. The choir adds a sense of melodrama and scale, as does the sweeping string section. Despite their presence however, keyboardist Coen Janssen is responsible for a good deal of the orchestrations, especially the convincing and strident brass sounds. For their part guitarists Mark Jansen and Ad Sluijter eschew lengthy solos, in favour of power chords and solid riffs.
Such is Epica's mastery of their art, they can be excused for indulging in the usual metal clichés, like Jansen's death growls (thankfully limited to three songs), and the frantic bass and double kick drum rhythms (courtesy of Yves Huts and Jeroen Simons respectively). The near ten-minute title song in particular demonstrates the band at their powerful and majestic, and remains a prominent feature of their live sets.
I approached the second disc with a little scepticism, comprising as it does mostly "orchestral versions" of the original album tracks. The combination of strings, keyboards, piano, percussion and choir is totally absorbing however, resulting in a lush, cinematic sound. It allows one to fully appreciate the quality of the melodies and arrangements, bringing to mind the rhythmic film scores of Hans Zimmer, Brad Fiedel and the late, great Basil Poledouris.
Had I been reviewing the original album, then 8 out of 10 would have been a fair score. Given however that Chapter 2 is a fine achievement in its own right (not something you can often say about bonus discs). That aspect ensures that this "Expanded Edition" gains a fully deserved extra point.
Chapter A: Hunab K'u - A New Age Dawns – Prologue (1:43), Dance of Fate (5:13), The Last Crusade - A New Age Dawns # 1 (4:23), Solitary Ground (4:21), Blank Infinity (3:59). Chapter B: Force of the Shore (4:00), Quietus (3:45), Mother of Light - A New Age Dawns # 2 (5:54), Trois Vierges (4:40). Chapter C: Another Me "In Lack'ech" (4:38), Consign to Oblivion - A New Age Dawns # 3 (9:45), Palladium (2:54), Solitary Ground – Remix (3:08). Chapter D: Quietus – Grunt Version (3:46), Crystal Mountain (4:47), Linger - Orchestral Version (4:19), Mother of Light – Without Grunts (5:55)
Alongside the 2CD Consign to Oblivion "Expanded Edition", I also have the pleasure to review the 2LP version, which also carries the "Expanded Edition" tag. I say 'pleasure', because despite the digital revolution, I still have a passion for vinyl: a passion that dates back to 1964, when at the tender age of 10 I purchased my very first record (the theme to Doctor Who in case you were wondering).
Consign to Oblivion itself is now over 10 years old and despite the familiar gothic, symphonic metal traits (operatic female vocals, incessant riffs, double bass drum rhythms, choir and orchestra) it still sounds remarkably fresh today. That's in part due to the superb re-mastering of these reissues but mainly due to the quality of the original material, arrangements and recording.
The four sides of this 2LP release are subtitled Chapter A, B, C and D respectively. The original album ends part way through the third side, and the rest of the disc is taken up with bonus tracks. Whilst Consign to Oblivion is consistently excellent throughout, for me the epic, near 10 minute title song is the highpoint of the original album. The bonus tracks are also of a high standard, with the cinematic Palladium and Linger in particular standing out.
If I had to make a comparison between these LPs and the CD re-masters, to my ears the vinyl tracks have a fuller, more rounded soundstage, even though their digital counterparts win out in terms of pure detail. The 12" (31cm) gatefold sleeve is also a very desirable object, with which a CD digipak has no chance of competing.
The downside however, is that whilst you get a lot of vinyl and artwork for your money, you don't get the same amount of music. Absent here are the "Orchestral versions" that impressed so much on the 2CD set. For these, you have to splash out on yet another 2LP set, the recently released 2016 Orchestral Edition, which does at least include four additional tracks which do not appear on the CDs. So you pay your money and you take your choice.
Personally, for vinyl buffs I would opt for this 2LP set, and if your budget stretches that far, the 2LP Orchestral Edition. For most however, the 2CD set will be a more tempting and practical option. They are all released on the Transmission Records label. Whichever media you choose, this album remains one of the finest examples of gothic, symphonic metal the genre has to offer.