June 10, 2022

Classical music has always had a foot in hard rock and metal and from Black Sabbath to more extremes such as Celtic Frost and Emperor. The mid to late 1990s ushered in a new wave of the symphonic, pushing classical elements to the fore and leading the charge in the early days was Within Temptation and the band that became behemoths of the scene – Nightwish. Over the last quarter of a century symphonic metal has grown not just in the sheer number of bands but in stature and taking symphonic metal to the biggest stages of the world.

In that first wave of acts was After Forever who formed in 1995 initially as a death metal cover band and calling themselves Apocalypse. In 1997, a 16-year old Floor Jansen joined the band bringing her phenomenal voice to the death growls of guitarists Mark Jansen and Sander Gommans and with a more gothic/symphonic/progressive outlook, the band changed their name to After Forever. The Prison Of Desire and Decipher albums were released in 2000 and 2001 respectively – the latter raising After Forever’s profile significantly – before Mark Jansen left in 2002 due to “musical differences”. Mark Jansen went on to form Sahara Dust which was to become another scene leader –  Epica. After Forever then released Invisible Circles in 2004 and Remagine in 2005 before signing to Nuclear Blast to release what would be their swansong self-titled album in 2007.

Remagine was be-set by bad luck but despite the barriers it was a good record; more direct with fluidity in the song writing but its successor trumps it every area – the performances, the songs, the sound, the production – After Forever raised the bar. Fifteen years later and with a scene as overpopulated as it is, nothing has changed in revisiting After Forever, it remains an essential listen and a paragon of symphonic metal.

Naturally, Floor Jansen’s vocals are going to be of interest it is the bark of Sander Gommans that opens the album on Discord. The juxtaposition of the two vocal styles is ubiquitous in the genre but After Forever has that balance nailed down and with dramatic effect. Floor Jansen’s soprano is neither over nor under used on the album and on Evoke, Floor switches between the operatic and singing before raising the roof on the chorus. Withering Time, the operatic is a lot more front and centre throughout but again offset with Gommans harsh vocal take. Transitory is a total banger and has some incredible keys and hefty drum work – Joost van den Broek and Andre Borgman respectively are real stars on the track – but it is the pacing of the song and the changes in tempo that drive the song and the guitar crunch is just exceptional. Energise Me bubbles with pop delight, with a gorgeous, uplifting chorus. De-Energised features a guest appearance by Jeff Waters of Annihilator and where the vocals are flipped over, among swirling guitars is Sander Gommans in vocally in command on the voices. After Forever is not short of diversity with the heartfelt ballad Cry With A Smile, there is the eleven minute Dreamflight and a further guest appearance from “metal queen” Doro Pesch sharing vocals with Floor Jansen on the brooding Who I Am.

There was little wrong with the original production but the remastering is pure class adding an extra dimension of crispness. This anniversary edition comes with two bonus tracks, both were on the Japanese version of the original album release and one track was a bonus on the UK version. Lonely is a piano led ballad which, while delightful is also a bit throwaway whereas Sweet Enclosure ends the album on something of a high note.

At the time of the original release, the band said that After Forever was their past, present and future but sadly, the future was short lived and while After Forever toured the album, the band split in 2009.

After Forever was one of the best albums of 2007 and incredibly, fifteen years later, its light has not dimmed and has not tainted by the passage of time. Beautiful, aggressive, catchy, dramatic and exciting, After Forever has it all and is masterful in its delivery of symphonic metal. This album deserves to be in any collection and is essential in every way.

After Forever is out now on Nuclear Blast Records