Round Table Review
Insights DVD [26.37]: My Choice video (4.14), Making Of... My Choice (11.59), The Evil That Men Do (live) (4.29), Studio Recordings (5.55), Slideshows, Artwork, Lyrics, Liner Notes
What do you do when one of the principal songwriters in your band decides to leave? You either try to reinvent yourself or stay true to your chosen course. And judging from this first new offering since the departure of Mark Jansen last year, After Forever have largely chosen the second option. Because while only two of the songs on this six track mini-album bear the After Forever trademark established so succesfully on the preceding two full length albums Prison of Desire and Decipher, the other four are more the odd ones out (or odd four out, if you want) than that they establish a pattern.
Beneath, the first proper song on the album, falls into the first category: the use of breaks, the guitars and bass that provide the body and the keys and vocals that provide the melody, and the use of strings are characteristics strongly reminiscent of the Decipher album. The inspiration for the first few seconds of Glorifying Means seems to have been Nightwish, who After Forever supported on their European tour last year. This opening could however not be more deceptive because what follows would knock Tarja and her cohorts of their socks. This is by far the heaviest track on the album, owing in no small part to Gommans' grunts. The first odd one out is opener Line of Thoughts. Musically in the tradition of Metallica's The Call of Ktulu, this short instrumental is a sort of synopsis of the album, consisting of pieces of the other songs. My Choice is a ballad in which the rhythm guitars have mostly made place for the acoustic variety. The string section that again assists After Forever play a more significant role here.
The final two songs on the albums are covers. The inclusion of Iron Maiden's The Evil That Men Do (from this reviewer's favourite Maiden album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son) is not very surprising, as this rocker has been an After Forever concert staple for some time now. This rendition is very close to the original, with the vocals being the least similar, which also is not very surprising, as Bruce Dickinson may sing high but he's not a woman! The second cover is rather shockingly the cloyingly sweet One Day I'll Fly Away. An odd choice, but it actually works pretty well. And I guess the fade out at the end of the song is an ode to the days when the original version of this song was recorded and this awful practice was still in vogue!
Also included in this beautifully packaged release is a DVD, which is appropriately called Insights as it contains two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one covering the recording of this mini album, and the other the shooting of the My Choice video clip. These featurettes are more a collection of glances at a day in the life of After Forever than a documentary on the recording process, so they are for entertainment only. The aforementioned My Choice video is of course included, and is a worthy effort. It sees singer Floor Jansen exploring an old building (the Gevangenpoort in The Hague) in a very tight outfit (it sells, I guess) interspersed with shots of the band performing on stage. Extras include a live version of The Evil that Men Do and a number of photo galleries, of which the one containing pictures taken at Dutch TV programme Kopspijkers is hilarious.
In conclusion: Exordium is the introduction of a concept that will be more fully explored on the band's forthcoming third full length album. In the mean time, After Forever have proven that they can do very well without Mark Jansen, as this is a well produced effort. Even so, listeners unfamilair with the work of this Dutch band are recommended to pick up Decipher first. If you're already a fan, add another half point to the score below: this is obligatory fare for you!
Dutch band After Forever have, in their short career, already carved out a niche for themselves as quality exponents of symphonic, progressive metal, and in vocalist Floor Jansen have something of a secret weapon – a versatile singer capable of outstanding range and power. The band are already well known in their homeland, so I imagine that this EP has dual purposes; to tide their loyal fanbase over until the next full length album, and to serve as a ‘taster’ to those yet to discover the band.
Effectively what we have here are three original tracks (Line of Thought really being an extended intro to Beneath) and two cover versions. Of the originals, both Beneath and Glorifying Means are good examples of the band’s fairly unique fusion of the power of heavy metal with the dynamics of classical music. Beneath is probably the stronger song, with a well-worked structure, nice changes in pace and mood, a strong chorus and memorable melodies. Glorifying Means is, however, perhaps a more typical After Forever track, in the vein of the material from their debut album Prison Of Desire – here, the band go for the patented ‘beauty and the beast’ vocal style (i.e. a guy delivers death-metal style growls while the female provides the ‘clean’ vocals), and singer Floor Jansen reaches the high notes usually only attained by opera singers, providing a good demonstration of why she’s so highly rated in progressive metal circles.
The other original, My Choice, is something of a power ballad – Floor’s voice here is much more conventional (if still excellent), as (on the surface) is the song; whilst a little bland on first listen, it does improve with repeated spins; I particularly like the well-worked vocal harmonies used throughout, whilst the bombastic chorus is memorable.
Of the covers, there is a safe choice and a surprising one. The former is Iron Maiden’s The Evil That Men Do, apparently a live favourite; to be honest the band can’t really go wrong with this heavy metal classic, and they don’t, but at the same time this doesn’t add anything to the original; musically, in fact, its pretty much identical, and I can’t say I prefer Floor’s vocals here to Bruce Dickinson’s – I think the song is better suited to a male vocal. Ultimately the feeling here (as with so many of these identikit covers) is: what’s the point?
A more interesting cover is that of Randy Crawford’s well-known, melodramatic ballad One Day I’ll Fly Away. The idea of retaining the original melody but placing it inside a symphonic metal framework may sound slightly odd in theory, but proves (perhaps surprisingly) to be pretty effective in practice, and in contrast to the previous track it is an undeniably different take on familiar material.
The CD comes with a DVD, Insights. On this, there is a video for My Choice, a doc following the making of said video, a live clip of The Evil That Men Do, some clips of the band messing around in the studio, and a photo gallery. All pleasant enough extras but mostly of the ‘one watch only’ kind unless you’re a dedicated fan.
Overall, this is a decent ‘stop gap’ that will ultimately be of more interest to existing fans than to potential new ones; to the latter group I’d advise getting a copy of either (or both!) of the band’s full-length albums, which contain superior tracks to anything on Exordium, and are more consistently enjoyable to boot.
I have been anxiously awaiting this release. Mostly because of the question concerning the status of After Forever. How much of After Forever did Mark Jansen take with him at the start of Epica? Are they able to continue without him? My expectations and hopes for this album were high. I am very fond of the first two albums by After Forever mainly because of the music, but next to that I am proud that a Dutch band is able to make such excellent progmetal/gothic music.
After departure of Mark Jansen, Bas Maas was added to the band. Before he was just befriended to the band and worked as a permanent crew member (roadie). His previous experiences include working with a number of cover bands.
At first I was a bit disappointed, mostly because of the (short) length of this new album, of course I knew this beforehand because it is called mini-cd, but I had hoped for a bit more. If you take into account that two tracks on this album are covers it is a pretty short album. The fact that this CD is accompanied by a DVD does make up for something, but it also means that the price of this album is not inline with it's mini-cd status.
After the first encounter the music also was a disappointment: it is as if After Forever has lain down their Gothic roots. It is more prog metal than Gothic. And although normally I am not a big gothic fan, it is the mix of both genres that made After Forever special. Furthermore a more Gothic oriented album would mean that Floor Jansen would take a different approach in her singing: more soprano. Unlike many people that I know, I have never been a big fan of the sound of Floor's voice, and taking a less 'classical/opera/soprano' approach puts more emphasis on the specific sound in her voice that I do not like too much. There are exceptions to this on the album, especially Glorifying Means, which has a lot of the 'Floor that I like.'
Line Of Thoughts is an instrumental intro to Beneath a track that talks about street rage, based on an event in Venlo where a young man was killed for no real reason. The lyrics seem to take a more general point of view, why are people like this, what would you do if you were there. Musically this track is furthest away from the previous albums, in my opinion it is also the best track of this album. My Choice is more like an older After Forever song I like the higher pitched vocals of Floor. This track is still growing on me. And I am still doubting whether or not this is the best track on this album (in a few weeks I will know for sure). Glorifying Means is a track in the best After Forever tradition, even with grunts and all. I am a bit surprised (of myself) that although this is a very good track that I like Beneath more. I have some mixed thoughts on that, on the one hand I would like another Decipher and on the other I hoped the band would make some progression. The Evil That Men Do is a Iron Maiden cover and although I do not know the original I spotted it as an Iron Maiden song even before I had a look in the booklet. It catches on easy. One Day I'll Fly Away a song made famous by Randy Crawford might be an odd choice but it works very well.
The DVD that is also part of this album made me rewrite the comment I had made on My Choice. Having another listen (and first look) made me appreciate this track more. In the video clip the band is on a stage sometimes left alone by Floor who is walking through a maze of doors and choices. A number of times she steps away out of herself (2,3, or even 4 Floors in a tight catsuit! ) and although it is not a special effects wonder, like e.g. The Matrix, it is interesting to watch.The audio to this track is available in Dolby Digital, DTS and Stereo. Making of My Choice is more like a backstage video to a live concert than a insight in the tricks used to create the video clip. But it is still an enjoyable watch: the band fooling around a bit. Under special features a number of items are to be found: a live registration of The Evil That Men Do (but with the studio audio version), recordings of After Forever in the studio, a slide show of photographs, the artwork in the booklet and the lyrics to the tracks.
I think that fans of After Forever have nothing to fear: this is After Forever as it has always been, but mind you: they have made some changes and with that some progress. The tracks on this mini-album are promising and I hope a full album will be released in the near future. The fact that this is not a full album has it's influence on my rating. It is not DPRP recommended but I can recommend this album to anyone that is curious to what After Forever sounds like nowadays.