After Forever – Remagine
09/11/2005 § Leave a comment
Far be it from me to describe After Forever’s new album as Gothic metal since the last time anyone did that they would have been sure to meet the full, deadly force of Floor’s wrath. You may have thought there were seven deadly sins, there are actually eight, the eighth being to misname the type of music that After Forever write. I made that mistake a few years ago and Floor nearly took my head off, if it’s possible to do that via email. Maybe not, but some people can still have a bloody good go.
All typecasting aside, Remagine hits us a year and a half after I started wondering whether all this band were capable of producing was technically ostentatious music with overly-poignant lyrics and prog-by-number song methods. However, something good seems to have happened since the beginning of 2004. There’s nothing like a tussle with your label to upset the balance and it is little secret that After Forever’s relationship with Transmission was hardly the most amicable. Still, where one door closes another one opens and though I was under the impression that Remagine was going to come across as very much a rushed piece of work, it actually seems to have benefited from the short timescale which they have given it. Out the window go the long song lengths, those awful soap-opera soundbites and hardy morals injected into every song to sickening bursting point, and what we have left over are twelve four-minute tracks of the best stuff that After Forever have produced since Mark left the band in 2003.
And wouldn’t they just hate to hear me say that. The music that the band were putting across on Decipher was undoubtedly Gothic in tone and had a different colour to it altogether. After Forever have now changed their sound very consciously to something far more integrated in the metal rather than the Gothic side of things with less of an emphasis on choirs, more major chord progressions and faster tempos. In a certain vein they’ve always been a short hop away from power metal and progressive metal, licking the outer shells of both but never really delving into the gooey centres. Nevertheless, one thing that Remagine benefits from is a lack of conceit, an absence of ego, which Invisible Circles had too much of. There’s no pat on the back here, no self-congratulatory fulfilment. Instead Remagine succeeds purely because they have made no effort to do anything other than make good music rather than try to attach any social importance, message or moral to what they’re trying to convey. Maybe leaving Transmission was good for them in more ways than one.
Floor Janser – vocals
Bas Maas – guitars
Sander Gormaans – guitar / vocals
Lukk Van Gerven – bass
Andre Borgman – drums
Joost v.d. Broek – keyboards
1. Enter 1:05
It wouldn’t be a femme metal album if it didn’t start with a useless intro song. I’m really getting fed up with these things. Still, After Forever seem to be one of the only bands with a right to do this now since they’ve been carrying the torch for the useless intro track for at least five years. However, while the stuff they were doing a few years ago such as Mea Culpa and Ex Cathedra had some quite meritable song-writing to it, their efforts of late have been little more than gesture. There doesn’t seem to be much in the chord sequences anymore, nothing meaty or uplifting, so tracks such as this one are little more than fillers. It’s methods like this that make 11-track albums 12-tracks albums, unless you’re Sengir and you include one called Outro at the end as well which is beyond useless.
2. Come 5:02
Come is quite a groovy number for After Forever and is surprisingly one of the longest songs on the album. Floor certainly makes good use of her normal and operatic vocals and there are some fabulous passages in it, the majority of the song being dominated by the riff that starts the whole thing off. Indeed, it’s rare that we hear such riffing in an AF song since AF are more often that not about chopping and changing rather than welcome predictability but this is one of the song’s and the album’s strengths. The only real problem being that more could have been made of the piano sections, the piano being merely hinted at and teasing you, and there’s a feeling that AF could have made more of this number if they had allowed themselves the luxury of letting it run away with them.
3. Boundaries Are Open 3:44
It’s at this point I realise that I’ve got some kind of problem since each song title seems to me to have some kind of sexual innuendo to it. Boundaries Are Open is actually quite an inventive number and After Forever show that they can do something perfectly impressive with a 3 minute song. The chorus is quite catchy [though ridiculously short] and the pace picks up nicely throughout before we are greeted with a keyboard solo which sounds like something lifted from the ZX Spectrum version of Pac Man. However, though it’s a good song for what it is, it may be a little too short, so by the time it’s ended there is a slight feeling of undernourishment and you’re left wondering what it was all about. The fast tempo and short chorus feel like you’ve just watched a high-speed train go past. It held your attention while it happened but the spaces before and after were both totally empty and like it hadn’t existed in the first place.
4. Living Shields 4:12
Living Shields is by far one of the more annoying songs on the album because of its deep song lyrics about war, pain and children dying. We should at least count ourselves lucky that we only got one of these or I would have had to insist that they put a health warning on the CD case. This is also the first song on the album with Sander’s growling on it and the chorus is purely choirwork. The pace and guitarwork are quite reminiscent of the previous two songs and Floor features minimally apart from in the bridge. Doubtlessly the harsh growling has something to do with the pain and gritty brutality of war etc etc. Shame, because it could have been a good song otherwise.
5. Being Everyone 3:39
Being Everyone impresses me slightly because the verse, with its palm-muted clicky guitar and pensive, thoughtful vocal line is quite effective, with the guitar becoming ever stronger for the second verse. The chorus isn’t half bad either, though I do get the impression that this song could have finished within two minutes of starting since by the time the second chorus comes there seems to be nowhere left to go. Cue the jammed-in tinkly piano section before going into the token full-blast chorus. Still, it makes the song a credible length, doesn’t it.
6. Attendance 3:28
This is by far the worst song on the album and thankfully one of the shortest. It starts off with an industrial-esque slow banging of the keyboards with Sander growling slowly and doggerelly over the top. The chorus may be tuneful but it adds little apart from its own mere presence. This will probably be one you skip when playing the album over. Its shortness only goes towards emphasising its banality.
7. Free Of Doubt 4:41
Unlike its predecessor, Free Of Doubt is rather a good number, in fact it’s probably the best song that After Forever have come up with in a long time. The strings and guitar punches at the beginning are actually quite like something out of a musical and this is unsurprising since this is a pie that AF have wanted to have their finger in for a long time. The verse, chorus and pre-chorus are all perfectly distinct and have their own character, also the nice tempo changes and locomotive guitar riffing go towards making it a very motioned and rhythmical song. Floor’s mini arias, when they come, are also a welcome break from the power-chord buffeting.
8. Only Everything 6:36
Only Everything is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album with its length bearing a resemblance to the kind of numbers that AF used to be producing. It begins with a short piano intro with Floor’s wistful vocals over the top and the occasional keyboard cough before the distortion comes in for the chorus. This is truly everything that an After Forever song should be and when the power chords come in at full force it really is something tremendous and would be wonderful to see live. There is also a dash of self-congratulatory technical guitar and drum work but not so much as to make you feel ill, just enough to be subtly appreciated. The subject itself is the age-old After Forever adage about finding your own way in life and not being restricted by the rat-race and breaking free from the chains of everyday normalcy. It’s a bit of a tired message by now but at least they’re consistent with what they can write about.
9. Strong 3:40
No, not a Robbie Williams cover but certainly the softest song on the album. In fact, I’m surprised that we hadn’t had a ballad up till now and Strong performs very well as one. If you try to ignore the effects on the keys which sound like something played at a holiday nightclub somewhere in Torquay on a package get-together evening, the tune is a very melodic one and the lyrics are quite personal: Day after day, to be there for us, always to pretend there’s nothing wrong, how you feel or how it feels, no words describe it, your body feels like a stranger, we cannot stop it, we cannot win. As to what the song is about, the band is unlikely to reveal, but that is indeed part of its allure. It’s definitely one of the brighter moments on the album and this song indeed does have a strength to its modesty.
10. Face Your Demons 4:56
Face Your Demons starts with a wonderfully groovy riff and the keyboards filling the background with thick, stodgy orchestrated intensity. However, there’s just something about this song which says ‘we have issues’. There’s no feeling of irony in the ‘don’t cross me’ lyrics and though the verse tune is very promising it unfortunately leads to quite a disappointing chorus and the song seems to lose its identity. As if to make matters worse, after the second chorus comes one of the worst moments in any After Forever song I’ve heard with Floor pelting out the lyrics to the tune of some kind of army-training pep song. It really is atrocious and the first time I heard it I was dreadfully embarrassed for her. It might be fun to sing but so is The Sound Of Music. It doesn’t mean you can shove in a passage from that whenever you feel like it.
11. No Control 3:18
No Control is the most Sander-dominated song of the album, with Floor not featuring at all and it doesn’t really work well enough. After Forever has always really been about tuneful power rather than grittiness and as a result the whole song is pretty flat. It may have worked if the guitar lines were more interesting, but the whole thing sounds like it was strung together in a matter of minutes and is resultantly one of the weakest songs on the album.
12. Forever 5:10
Forever is the song most closely resembling a number from a musical. It starts off with a fairly Arabic feel played in the Phrygian mode before the vocal parts come in [both male and female] but there are no growls in the male vocals this time. The song tells the story of a man whose partner and died and feels like his life is empty without her, while she tells him her love will endure from beyond the grave as he festers in hopelessness. Forever is clearly one of the more experimental songs on the album, and After Forever have experimented with this format before in Imperfect Tenses on Decipher. It would be interesting to see the band exploit this area more since it works rather well for them. The last song on the album could have been some heavily-disguised complaint about how awful everything was on Transmission [though that could have already happened in Face Your Demons], but instead to finish with the line ‘love me forever’ is rather more promising, though maybe a little supercilious.
Album Length: 49.31
If anything, Remagine’s underlying weakness is its inability to hold songs which are distinct from one another. Even though in some ways it benefits from its short songs, many of the numbers really are too similar to one another, being mostly in the same keys or with very similar tempos. Floor never really seems to stretch or push her voice either like she has done on previous albums.
Still, Remagine is not an exercise for the band. They are not trying to develop musically here, the intention is just to put across more songs in the credited After Forever style. The songs are a bit less grand than on previous efforts but this seems to be their major strength. Invisible Circles was desperately trying to be epic and majestic and as a result ended up treading on its own toes, whereas Remagine is a better album purely because it is totally unassuming and unpretentious. It may take a few spins to get into and may be nothing greater than a shallow example of popcorn-metal, but it’s not trying to be anything else, so on this level alone it succeeds in its purpose. Nevertheless, those expecting the band to explore the deeper areas of their sound will be left a little unsatisfied.