Album Reviews

Issue 2017-029

After Forever - Remagine [2LP]

After Forever - Remagine
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2004/2016
Time: 80:21
Track List:
Enter (1:06), Come (5:01), Boundaries Are Open (3:44), Living Shields (4:12), Being Everyone (3:39), Attendance (3:27), Free of Doubt (4:41), Only Everything (6:35), Strong (3:39), Face Your Demons (4:56), No Control (3:18), Forever (5:10), Taste the Day (Remagine) (2:56), Live and Learn (4:25), Being Everyone (Acoustic Version) (3:24), Attendance (Industrial Remix) (3:03), Two Sides (Single Version) (3:17), Strong (Piano Version) (3:42), Face Your Demons (Alternative Version Feat. Marco Hietala) (5:00), Come (Session Version) (5:06)
After Forever first became known to me when my partner fell in love with Floor Jansen's vocals when she heard some songs by Ayreon. After hearing her vocals, I decided to check them out. This album, Reimagine was the fourth from the band, released in 2005 and is the first to feature keyboardist Joost van den Broek.

The album starts off nice and heavy, with a good solid beat at a pace to get the head banging. A mix of symphonic and power metal is probably how I would describe it. Heavy guitars are present throughout along with fast drumming and Floor Jansen's operatic vocals. Sometimes utilising them to their full operatic effect, other times just singing her heart out. These, combined with the growled and harsh vocals, fit the music spectacularly, with the growled vocals bringing an almost melodic death style to it at points.

However, there is a good mix of fast-paced, heavy songs and some slower ones that showcase the more symphonic and operatic side of the band, so it is never too heavy, nor too mellow. It sits between mellow and heavy with perfect balance. The album also includes a guest spot from Marco Hietala of Nightwish fame (interestingly enough, Floor has now gone on to become the singer for Nightwish) on the bonus track Face Your Demons (Alternative Version).

Overall this is a very good album. A nice mix of heavy guitars, drums and synths along with Floor Jansen's soaring vocals. I'm not a huge fan of the higher notes she can hit, but that is just personal preference, since I tend to enjoy the eloquent tones of death and black metal. However, if you are, like me, a fan of the heavier side of metal, this album will not leave you wanting. It is fast, heavy, melodic and powerful.

If you're a fan of Dream Theater, Nightwish or Avantasia, you will probably love this album.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10

After Forever - Invisible Circles: The Album – The Sessions

After Forever - Invisible Circles: The Album – The Sessions
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 76:24, 72:31, 64:59
Track List:
CD 1: Chapter 1: Invisible Circles - The Album: Childhood in Minor (1:21), Beautiful Emptiness (5:25), Between Love and Fire (4:57), Sins of Idealism (5:21), Eccentric (4:10), Digital Deceit (5:38), Through Square Eyes (6:23), Blind Pain (6:47), Two Sides (4:34), Victim of Choices (3:21), Reflections (5:11), Life's Vortex (5:51) Bonus Tracks: Digital Deceit (Single Version) (4:07), Eccentric (Orchestral Version) (4:35), Sins of Idealism (Single Version (4:11), Blind Pain (Aggressive Version) (4:16)
CD 2: Chapter 2: Invisible Circles - The Sessions: Childhood in Minor (2:04), Beautiful Emptiness (5:25), Between Love and Fire (4:57), Sins of Idealism (5:19), Eccentric (4:08), Digital Deceit (5:38), Through Square Eyes (6:23), Blind Pain (6:19), Two Sides (4:34), Victim of Choices (3:21), Reflections (5:12), Life's Vortex (5:53), Two Sides (Single Version) (3:17), Interview Andre Borgman & Bas Maas (9:50)
CD 3: Chapter 3: Exordium – The Album - The Sessions: Line Of Thoughts (2:15), Beneath 4:52), My Choice (4:52), Glorifying Means (4:59), The Evil That Men Do (4:50), One Day I'll Fly Away (4:43), Bonus Tracks: My Choice (single version) (4:00), The Evil That Men Do (single version) (3:18), My Choice (acoustic version) (4:00), Line Of Thoughts (2:18), Beneath (4:53), My Choice (4:52), Glorifying Means (5:00), The Evil That Men Do (5:00), One Day I'll Fly Away (4:44)
Dutch label Transmission Records have been doing a sterling job in recent years with their expanded, re-mastered and repackaged reissues. Symphonic metal acts Epica and After Forever in particular have been benefited in this respect.

This latest offering combines After Forever's EP Exordium from 2003 and their official third album Invisible Circles from 2004. Both had the unenviable task of following the stunning debut album Prison Of Desire (2000) and the equally classy Decipher (2001). As a result, and perhaps almost inevitably, reviews were mixed at the time. There was also a good deal of speculation regarding the band's future following the departure of key songwriter Mark Jansen, who had gone onto form Epica in 2002.

With the exception of Bas Maas (guitars, vocals), who had been recruited to replace Jansen, the line-up remained unchanged from Decipher, namely Floor Jansen (vocals), Sander Gommans (guitars, grunts), Lando van Gils (synths), Luuk van Gerven (bass) and André Borgman (drums). Hans Pleters and Dennis Leidelmeijer were responsible for production and engineering, as they had been on the first album, thereby ensuring a degree of continuity in the sound department.

Invisible Circles was and still is an ambitious concept album that tackles the tricky subject of mental cruelty and child abuse. Musically, all the elements of the symphonic metal genre are in place, with heavy stop-start guitar riffs, symphonic keys, a driving rhythm section, relentless kick drum, occasional strings and strident vocals. Rarely do they indulge in instrumental solos, relying more on a solid wall of sound and Jansen's soaring soprano to carry the songs. Her vocal range never ceases to amaze, shifting effortlessly from natural to operatic and back again, in a single phrase. On the downside (for me at least) Gommans' growls are very much in evidence, whilst Maas' "clean" vocals are sparingly but effectively used, as he demonstrates on Reflections.

Whilst my colleagues provided an in-depth round table review of Invisible Circles on its original release, for the record Eccentric, Digital Deceit and Reflections are in my opinion the strongest tracks. The beautiful piano-led Eccentric in particular provides a welcome respite from the barrage of sound that pervades the rest of the album. Likewise, of the bonus tracks on disc one, it's the orchestral version of Eccentric that impresses, adding a symphonic gloss to an already fine song.

CD 2 is subtitled 'Invisible Circles - The Sessions' which is a bit of a misnomer. Every song from the original album (and disc one) is repeated here but with only slight variations, even the track lengths are for the most part identical. True, the mixes differ, but only marginally (the operatic choir on Life's Vortex for example is absent on the version here, which for me reduces the song's impact).

The third disc is dedicated to Exordium which has undergone the most significant overhaul. A mini-album originally released to keep the band in the public consciousness whilst they were working on Invisible Circles, the six tracks have been expanded to 15. That said, there is a good deal of repetition, with two, sometimes three versions of each song and little to distinguish between them.

The three original songs (and obligatory instrumental intro) on Exordium are pretty average by After Forever standards, with the two covers proving (surprisingly) to be the most interesting. The Evil That Men Do remains true to the Iron Maiden original, but Jansen's strident but still very female vocal adds a new dimension. The same can be said for One Day I'll Fly Away turning what was an insipid love song (despite Randy Crawford's excellent vocal) into a spirited power ballad.

With over three-and-a-half hours of music, impressive production, re-mastering and packaging, this reissue certainly makes a good argument for itself. For me however the songs themselves lack the spark of originality of After Forever's two previous albums. Also given their striking similarity to the originals, the previously unreleased tracks are hardly essential listening.
Geoff Feakes: 7.5 out of 10

Crippled Black Phoenix - Bronz

Crippled Black Phoenix - Bronz
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 67:27
Track List:
Dead Imperial Bastards (5:00), Deviant Burials (6:45), No Fun (4:53), Rotten Memories (3:11), Champions of Disturbance, Parts 1 & 2 (9:02), Goodbye Then (5:23), Turn to Stone (7:04), Scared and Alone (8:59), Winning a Losing Battle (9:15), We Are the Darkeners (10:23), A Future Shock (5:52), Denisovans (3:12),
The UK: a land known as the birth place of metal and home to some of the world's greatest prog rock bands. A reputation to live up to for any band from that country. Crippled Black Phoenix is one that steps up to the mark. Describing themselves as being about "Confusion, with a whiff of the macabre", with one of the top misconceptions about them being that CBP stands for Canadian Border Patrol and of their genre being "vigilante". As such, they don't seem to be a band that takes themselves too seriously. Having released nine albums (Bronz being the ninth), one mini album and two EPs, they are a band with a lot of experience over their 13-year career. With this information, I dived head-long into the fires.

The album has a nice heavy stoner rock vibe to it, mixed with some fantastic clean vocals that sound similar to Matt Bellamy of Muse fame, as well as mellow, more traditional prog sounding songs (such as Rotten Memories), consisting of emotional leads and steady drum beats, with the rhythm being driven by a simple, but effective bass line. There is an element of old school rock to it as well, with hints of Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd and others mixed in as well.

The album flows easily from track to track, almost as if it is one long track. This helps move the album through the more rock-orientated tracks (with the bouncy pace that would go down fantastic in a live setting), and the aforementioned mellow ones. All in all, this is a good mix of stoner/southern rock mixed with prog rock and some hints of heavier genres spread throughout.

I am thoroughly impressed with this album and it is one that will get played often I suspect. For fans of Muse, Ghost, Red Fang and a lot of 60s-70s hard rock.
Calum Gibson: 8.5 out of 10

Eleven Strings - Chaos and Creation

Eleven Strings - Chaos and Creation
Country of Origin: Brazil
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 52:19
Track List:
Dark Matter (1:52), The Maestro of Creation (4:15), Life (5:07), Psycho Minds (5:02), Nameless (5:01), Slow Death (4:54), The Maestro of Chaos (4:17), Deep Black Hole (5:22),The Third I (5:16), The Last March (4:19), Universe Illusion (6:54)
The more I listen to Brazilian prog metal band Eleven Strings' debut album, Chaos and Creation, the better it sounds. This is an album that steadily grows on you, and as it does, you slowly forgive its few faults. Taking both their band and album name from the theory of quantum physics that suggests there are multiple dimensions to the universe, the band aptly delivers on a promise of both chaos and creation, as any good progressive metal album should.

From the very beginning, this album reminded me of some of the best moments from Dream Theater and Haken. These musicians have serious chops. With a twin guitar attack, these guys shred like the wind. The members also wear their influences on their sleeves, quite literally: their music videos find some of the players wearing Meshuggah and Yes t-shirts. Interestingly, the band never fully reaches either of those extremes of the progressive genre, yet they masterfully fill their corner of the prog metal market. The album is full of complex and catchy riffs that are sure to keep you coming back for more. One can't help but headbang along with this music.

While lyrics and vocals are integral to their overall sound, the music is the most important aspect for this band. Indeed, a good portion of each song is dedicated to instrumental riffing that would make present and past members of Dream Theater smile. Heavy drums, driving bass, dual-guitar attacks and layered synths swirl around the listener, creating an instrumental paradise.

Before I gush too much more, I'll add that the vocals, for me, don't quite live up to the music. Maybe it is that Evandro Braito's voice doesn't quite match their overall sound. While many, if not most, prog metal bands feature a tenor or high tenor, that approach does not work as well for Eleven Strings. That isn't to say that he has a bad voice, for his high voice suits some parts of the music quite well. It is just that, at points, it sounds like he is reaching a bit too far.

The band does, however, make fair use of multiple singers. Both guitarists and the drummer sing backing vocals throughout the album, albeit not to the harmonic extent that Haken or Moon Safari do. One of the guitarists, whose full name isn't given on their website or Facebook page, sings lead at a few points, and his rough tone works really well for this music. He sings lead for part of Deep Black Hole, and his voice suits the heavy nature of the song perfectly. I think, for the future, the band would be well-served by using both vocalists in harmony to a much greater and more professional effect. It would take their sound to the next level.

The final song, Universe Illusion is one of the best album-closing songs I have heard in a while. The main guitar riff that begins about a minute-and-a-half into the song is brilliant, and the time signature changes intermixed throughout, certainly thrilled this Dream Theater fan. This song is what 21st century prog metal should sound like.

Overall, my complaints with this album are few. I was pleasantly surprised by how talented these musicians really are. Any fans of progressive metal should certainly enjoy this album. It is heavy, without being overbearing, and it fires on all cylinders. The band is currently working on their next album, and Chaos and Creation is the perfect foundation for future excellence. If this band is able to break through to wider audiences in North America and Europe, they should do very well indeed.
Bryan Morey: 8.5 out of 10

Epica - Consign To Oblivion (Orchestral Edition) [2LP]

Epica - Consign To Oblivion (Orchestral Edition)
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 77:22
Track List:
Hunab K'u (1:43), Dance Of Fate (5:15), The Last Crusade (4:22), Solitary Ground (4:22), Blank Infinity (4:02), Force Of The Shore (4:03), Quietus (3:51), Mother Of Light (5:57), Trois Vierges (4:41), Another Me (In Lack'ech) (4:39), Consign To Oblivion (9:47), Sensorium (4:54), Basic Instinct (4:06), Cry For The Moon (6:41), The Phantom Agony (8:59)
A well known band in the symphonic/orchestral metal genre, Epica have been around for 15 years and have released seven albums. This one, Consign To Oblivion is their second album, although the version in this review is the orchestral reworking of the album. Gone are the guitars and the like, and in come the violins, cellos and their friends. The album features vocals from the Epica Choir.

My previous experience with Epica was their first album (The Phantom Agony), of which I admit I wasn't a huge fan. However I decided to go for this to see what they are like with a purely orchestral sound, and I must say I am impressed.

The album is epic, sorrowful and just outright grand in its execution and writing. This is an epic album in terms of musicality. It would be perfectly suited to a fantasy film score involving huge battles and heroics. Some tracks bring about images of evil lairs, with their dark and foreboding sounds, permeated with loud bass drums and an overall sense of unease and trepidation. The choir is put to good use on this album and really adds to the overall sound, blending well with the musicians. To give an idea of what the music is like, picture an epic fantasy war and the music that would accompany the cataclysmic battle at the end, with the hero's last stand.

The last side (or "chapter" as it is called on the vinyl) is particularly full of pace and tension. I would probably say this is my favourite side (Basic Instinct, Cry For The Moon and The Phantom Agony are the three tracks on it). It is, from an album of epic tracks, the most epic side of the album.

My overall impression of the album is that it is a very well done piece of music. One that I may well get out when I decide to read The Lord Of The Rings or play any of the Final Fantasy games. For me, this album is an improvement of their sound. If they released more orchestral albums I would likely go for them. If you are a fan of classical music or orchestral pieces, or symphonic metal such as Nightwish or Within Temptation, or even Epica's standard sound, this album will be one for your collection.
Calum Gibson: 7.5 out of 10

Madder Mortem - Red in Tooth and Claw

Madder Mortem - Red in Tooth and Claw
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:07
Track List:
Blood on the Sand (5:22), If I Could (5:16), Fallow Season (4:20), Pitfalls (5:21), All the Giants are Dead (5:12), Returning to the End of the World (5:57), Parasites (3:13), Stones for Eyes (4:24), The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs (4:31), Underdogs (7:31)
I've been familiar with the name Madder Mortem for quite some years now. I know that it is a female-fronted metal band from Norway and some sort of a underground household, name when it comes to progressive/doom stuff. Also that they have been around for quite some time now, in fact they started (under a different moniker) in 1993. However, until now I have never checked them out, and little could prepare me for the onslaught that is their sixth album, entitled Red in Tooth and Claw.

The aggressive Blood on the Sand is quite the opening statement. Less doomy than expected, the up-tempo song bulldozes through fast, twirling guitar riffs, whilst singer Agnete Kirkevaag doesn't take any prisoners with her unique, (and for me an absolutely unheard of) style of melodic aggressiveness. The following If I Could is both more epic and more aggressive in parts, and I begin to understand that the album lying ahead will be quite a diverse affair, which is much to my liking.

The first single, Fallow Season for example presents a more hard rocking side of the Norwegians. But it is the atmospheric songs with the long titles that are drawing me back to Red in Tooth and Claw every now and again.

All the Giants are Dead, Returning to the End of the World and the utterly heartbreaking The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs (sic!) are magnificent studies in northern melancholy, similar to a Norwegian counterpart to Sweden's Katatonia. The vocals on the other hand are reminiscent of Norway's own avant-garde metal pioneers, Atrox, back in the days when Monika Edvardsen graced their first four albums with her stunt vocals, though less over-the-top and avant-garde of course. That being said, I find it really hard to compare Madder Mortem's style to anyone else, as it sounds so absolutely fresh, exploratory and hungry, which I definitely didn't expect from a band with more than 20 years in the business.

The closing song, Underdogs, maybe a kind of theme song for the band. Clocking in at seven-and-a-half minutes and thus the longest of the album, it sums up perfectly what Red in Tooth and Claw is all about: Unique female-fronted progressive metal oscillating seamlessly between atmospheric and aggressive sounds, avoiding the all-too-trodden path most (so-called) progressive metal bands with female vocals go for.

A refreshing album from a seasoned band still hungry for more. I am absolutely glad I discovered this gem and cannot wait for their upcoming European tour with Soen from Sweden. Red in Tooth and Claw deserves to be heard and is worth a definite recommendation for all prog metal heads who like to look over the rim of their tea cups.
Dario Albrecht: 8 out of 10

The Silent Wedding - Enigma Eternal - Duo Review

The Silent Wedding - Enigma Eternal
Country of Origin: Greece
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 52:32
Track List:
A Living Experiment (1:20), Shadows And Dust (4:16), What Lies Beyond (4:18), Insanity (4:15), The Endless Journey (4:23), A Dream Of Choices (4.44), Loneliness (5:28), Under The Veil Of Grey (6:18), Catharsis (5:06), Closer To The End (4:48), Silence (4:31), Hands Of Fate (2:25)
Martin Burns' Review
The Silent Wedding is a five piece prog-metal band who formed in 2006. Their new release Enigma Eternal is the follow-up to 2013's Livin' Experiments. The Silent Wedding have a strong melodic sense to their prog-metal riffing, and their heavy metal tendencies are leavened by Johnny Thermos's piano and synths.

After a short ambient soundscape, Enigma Eternal thunders into life with the full-on metal of Shadows And Dust. The powerhouse rhythm section of Tom K. Wood (bass) and Renos Lialioutis (drums) propels this song along, as they do with most of songs here, whilst the keyboards prevent the songs from becoming monolithic slabs of riffing.

Dynamic contrasts, and an underpinning of piano, anchors the great What Lies Beyond, allowing Jim Katsaros' shredding guitar solo to really shine. A Dream Of Choices, a track featuring Tom Englund of Evergrey, moves from its spooky, gothic piano opening through more excellent riffing, as the synths open the sound out, adding surprising symphonic textures.

Just after the halfway point The Silent Wedding pull a very fine prog-metal ballad from the bag. Loneliness is a song of great power, with another shining guitar solo. But it is vocalist Marios Karanastasis who steals the show on this track (as on many others). He stays away from the screaming or the grunting metal vocal and possesses a warm, muscularly-soulful set of pipes. Imagine a young Peter Gabriel fronting a prog-metal band.

There is more light and shade in the second half of Enigma Eternal as the band embrace their progressive side a bit more. There is another cracking vocal performance on Catharsis where the keyboards are more evident, but there is no loss of power in these later songs.

So, with Enigma Eternal, The Silent Wedding have produced an album of precise, controlled, concise and melodic prog-metal that fans of that genre should happily investigate.
Andy Read's Review
This week I have been looking back at a pile of old cassettes that I bought in the 80s. Warmed by the memories of some excellent gigs I saw them play over several years as a teenager, I spun a Best Of collection by Scottish rockers Big Country. I never really realised just how many great songs they wrote.

Harvest Home, Fields Of Fire, In A Big Country, Chance, Wonderland, East Of Eden, Look Away, The Teacher, One Great Thing and many more. A collection of great rock anthems that few artists seem able to produce nowadays.

A funny way to open a review of the second album from a Greek progressive metal band? Not really, as it got me thinking how few vocalists there are around at the moment who can create lyrics and melodies that just stick in the head. The late Stuart Adamson of Big Country fame was such a musician. A songwriter who could match words that ring true, with a series of notes and a phrasing that would stuck in the brain forever.

Marios Karanastasis, singer and songwriter with The Silent Wedding, has a similar talent. From out of nowhere he leads the band through a dozen songs on Enigma Eternal that just scream at you with anthemic addiction. In the way that I remember putting on Big Country's debut The Crossing back in 1983, I just can not stop playing this album. Everything about it hits the right buttons for me.

Marios is the star, with a voice and a sixth sense for that perfect anthemic hook. Mellifluous is a word usually saved for female singers, but whichever part of his impressive range Marios selects, his voice flows rich and smooth, maybe not like honey, but like a perfectly finished ale!

The rest of the band ain't no slouches. I love the rhythms they set down, and the razor sharp riffing and soloing that hits the spot every time. Musically this wanders between the progressive metal styles of Vanden Plas and Threshold (catch those Clone-period harmonies at the start of What Lies Beyond), and the darker melodic progpower metal of fellow Greek bands Need, Until Rain and especially Astral DNA (whose 2014 Supergod album remains criminally ignored). There are other bits that remind me of Rhapsody, Savatage, Communic, Ascendia, Iris Divine, Morifade and Kamlelot.

The plentiful use of piano-heavy keys mirrors the sound of early Evergrey. The fact that Marios more than matches Tom S Englund in their duet on A Dream of Choices gives further credence to his pedigree.

The more complex tracks mirror the interplay between vocals, guitars and keys used by Darkwater and especially Amoral on their excellent Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows release (another album that benefited from a great singer). Loneliness is one of the best rock ballads you will hear this or any other year. Think Dokken's Alone Again or Cinderella's Don't Know What You Got (Til It's Gone) and add some balls!

There is absolutely nothing not to love about this album. If anthemic progressive melodic metal is your thing, then this is a genuine classic of the genre! Essential.

(If you don't trust me, then the band has created a whole album lyric video, available from the samples link above.)
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10
Andy Read: 9 out of 10
Album Reviews