After Forever – Invisible Circles
15/06/2004 § Leave a comment
A lot has changed since the flawless artistry of the Gothic behemoth that was Decipher. I think AF will always be haunted by the fact that they made two brilliant albums with Mark, but since then seem to have had an intense amount of difficulty equaling, or even bettering them. Floor and Mark were always the main creative forces behind the music, but now that Floor is soldiering on without him, Invisible Circles wants to be the big triumphant breakthrough into independence, however, this album comes across as nothing but a fat and bitter single mother desperately trying to convince us that she can go it alone and has moved on, and that that bastard was just holding her back anyway. Exordium might have raised suspicions that things were not going as well as they could be, but Invisible Circles is not so much of a warning shot across the bows that something is awry, but a huge, clumsy cannonball of Gothic haughtiness, smashing its way through the top end of the scene and making it hard for us to ignore a hankering for the better days and one or two quiet embarrassingly blatant flaws.
First things first, Invisible Circles is a concept album focusing on an average dysfunctional family, the constant arguments of the parents and the effects that these have on the child. Not so much a case of physical abuse here, but mental. The former would have been a little too much for the band to take on, so they went for the softer option. As to why they felt it necessary to bring this subject to our attention through the rather unusual medium of their music is a moot point. Maybe from a musical point of view they were trying to do something different, trying to work something novel into the clichéd metal format, or maybe they were just bringing something to our attention that they felt they had the authority to speak on. Mark Jansen previously wrote songs about finding your centre in life and not wasting your precious time with trivialities, and now that he’s gone it seems that AF want to have equally deep things to write about, but they’re not really sure what these should be.
In spite of this, lyrically, they bring the subject off rather well. The words that chronicle the events and thoughts of a young girl as she tries to deal with her parent’s marriage falling apart are cleverly put together and in some places are quite touching, but they do not belong on this album. AF seem to have forgotten quite a basic tenet that you can’t put just any lyrics to any music. As a result the whole CD comes across as being some kind of metal musical rather than a carefully executed expose on the difficulties of childhood in a crumbling family. As well as that, the points that are being made in each song are relatively similar, with only about four different variations on the theme really being covered. It starts out with the girl having to deal with her parent’s anguish at life and with each other [compounded by her birth]; her means of escapism from this social nightmare by spending most of her time on the internet; the hope of a reconciliation between her parents, and the final warning on the album that if she ever has kids herself it’s likely that she’ll screw them up too by having a broken marriage and mistreating them [hence, the invisible circle]. This is rather an apocalyptic ending to a story that I had hoped was going somewhere positive, instead, after track 12, the story just seems to throw its hands up and say “life’s a bitch” before stopping without a glimmer of hope.
Maybe Invisible Circles is not just a story though, but an example of ‘what happens’ among many families, but if there really is little to be done about situations like those shown here, why bring it up at all? Previous AF lyrics were valuable inasmuch as there was something there you could take away with you, something positive, there was a sense of discovery and revelation in each song, but here things get progressively worse until the final bomb-blast which is the album’s moral, Life’s Vortex. As well as this, it’s hard to take the topic too seriously when reading through the album’s lyrics because on every other page, as well as the deep and evocative lyrics and faux diary entries, is a picture of a random band member in black and green PVC doing a karate kick or looking meaningfully at the camera. I also get the feeling that though Floor has the perfect ability to get inside this child’s mind [for her own reasons, I’m sure] the album’s lyrics fall down where they show a lack of understanding in their subject. Digital Deceit goes on about how it’s bad for lonely children to spend too much time chatting to people they’ll never meet on the internet without really understanding the necessity for something that can make a lot of lonely kids quite happy and is probably their only means of release from social entrapment. It’s at times like this when artistic license almost borders on being insulting to the touchy topics it’s trying to address.
So it’s unfortunate that AF have tried so desperately hard with the album’s disappointing lyrics when the music itself, the song structures and layers, are so damn good. It’s a real shame because at first I didn’t notice the music so much because I couldn’t ignore the triteness of the lyrics. I am convinced that if the song topics were different we would have a very good album here, but when I come across lines like “stop dreaming and wake up, your silly world is not for real” and “a flash: see, but you won’t forget, a game, play, play, and hear and see” I just want to scream. Musically there are some very impressive parts to the album. Beautiful Emptiness, Sins Of Idealism, Digital Deceit and the delightful Eccentric are fantastically written and played and we can see that in their musicianship, AF have certainly not lost their flair. The old formula is adhered to pretty much by numbers, with choirs, strings and some beautiful thumping bass being once again the order of the day. Floor’s singing is next to perfect, though in spite of the fact that she can hit a note perfectly and she is doubtless one of the best female singers in metal, her voice is lacking a certain character here and could be more expressive. It seems she has two default settings, quiet and full-on, with no real subsections to the colour of her singing. Maybe it’s because she’s supposed to assume a different character for this album that she seems quite indifferent about the lyrics, though she is note-perfect.
Invisible Circles can easily come across as a very enjoyable album. If you stick it on and listen to it a few times, maybe even finding some clever elements in the song structures, you’ll be pleased with your purchase. However, this is not the level that the album wants to be appreciated on, it wants to make a real statement, the only problem being that after listening to it a few times I still can’t work out what the statement is. Some marriages go wrong, children get upset, and people take their rage out on others. So what, we knew that already. Putting it in a musical format doesn’t do anything for the problem apart from maybe fine-tuning these notions in other people’s heads. Invisible Circles is quite pompous in this way, it likes to think that it can be enjoyed and savored as a cordon–bleu masterpiece when it is in fact a KFC bargain bucket. From now AF should just stick to making excellent metal, and not try to carry too much of a message with it.
I appreciate the fact that having the chance to sell albums to the masses is like having a soap-box through which you can speak to people and if you’re going to say something you might as well have something worth saying, but for me it really didn’t work this time. You can pick out of this album the elements that appeal the most to you, and it’s likely to be the music rather than the subject matter. The two just seem to have been rammed together like badly matched jigsaw pieces which only fit because they’ve been forced to, but it isn’t a comfortable or natural fusion. AF do show that they still have the genius and wizardry to make brilliant albums, but unfortunately this isn’t one of them.