After Forever – After Forever (2007)

AfterForever_AfterForever5 out of 5 Stars!

Unfortunately, I discovered After Forever, a female-fronted Symphonic Metal band from the Netherlands, way too late. Indeed, the group announced its break-up a few weeks after I purchased this particular album, which completely blew me away, and also introduced me to the genre of female-led groups that often used operatic falsetto vocals, thus sending me on a desperate quest to hunt for similar-sounding bands. I like to think that had I not stumbled upon (and taken a chance on) this release, I might have never subsequently discovered Nightwish, Within Temptation, Edenbridge, Leaves’ Eyes, Silentium, and numerous other artists of this nature.

Anyway, upon first listen, I fell in love with the extraordinary singer Floor Jansen, who would go on to form another exciting band (ReVamp) and is now the singer in Nightwish. Although after absorbing this album for several weeks, I started digging into After Forever’s back catalogue and eventually decided that none of the group’s earlier albums tops this final, stellar, and self-titled release, yet each deserves a listen since Floor KILLS on each and every album.

Here, the band offers a seemingly perfect combination of bombastic Symphonic Metal, barreling Power Metal, with even a burst of Progressive Metal, thanks to the intricate instrumentation and song arrangements. “Discord” opens the album with a mighty bang, with Joost van den Broek’s keyboards layered and grand, and Sander Gommans’s and Bas Maas’s guitars brutal and beastly. Bassist Luuk van Gerven and drummer André Borgman unleash their own furious backing, their musical foundation substantial and rigorous. And although the band includes some “growling” vocals on occasion (typically an aspect that often ruins many albums of this nature for me), I can tolerate them here since they are not dominant within the mix, allowing Jansen’s wide-ranging and pristine leads to shine through and impress.

Although the album contains plenty of other tunes to match the alluring fury of “Discord”—for instance, “Transitory,” “Who I Am,” “Withering Time,” “Evoke,” “De-Energized” and “Equally Destructive”—other songs follow different paths, offering up diversity. The ballads “Cry You a Smile” and “Empty Memories” offer lighter moments, allow breathing space for the listener from the high-voltage moments, and also thrust Jansen’s soaring and emotional vocals to the forefront. On the other hand, the eleven-minute “Dreamflight,” the album’s longest and most adventurous track, is a full-out foray into Progressive Metal—the myriad segments and divergent passages, not to mention the wide array of instrumentation, shines a fierce spotlight on the band’s formidable orchestrational skills. And then, my favorite track, the luscious and upbeat “Energize Me,” has a breathtaking chorus that repeated in my head for weeks on end, showing that After Forever also had a talent for writing memorable songs.

Overall, the album blazes with a luxuriant beauty that most female-led Symphonic Metal/Gothic Metal acts would kill to possess. About the only band I subsequently discovered that could, in my opinion, occasionally match the sheer nuclear grandiloquence of this material is (ironically enough, considering Jansen’s future) Nightwish, but even that group has never delivered a collection of tracks with such consistent vigor and majesty as this.

Regardless, Floor Jansen has me as a lifelong fan, and this swansong release by After Forever is one album I have never removed from my I-Phone since purchasing it all those years ago. Five Stars all the way!

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Stone The Crows – Ode to John Law (1970)

StoneCrows_OdeJohnLaw4 out of 5 Stars!

With the terrific Maggie Bell as the band’s front-woman, one might expect to hear thunderous and raspy Janis Joplin-inspired vocals, loaded with angst and emotion, over hard-driving Blues Rock, which is exactly what’s on offer here. To me, Stone The Crows is what Faces might have sounded like with a female vocalist at the helm—had Rod Stewart perhaps undergone a gender reassignment.

Ode to John Law, the band’s second studio album—and its second album released in 1970—continues on from where the debut left off, with more Psychedelic-tinged, Blues-based Rock ‘n’ Roll, along with a touch of Funk and Soul added to the mix, thick-sounding Hammond, trippy electric piano, spirited and tasty guitar, and a solid and punchy rhythm section. And with not only Maggie Bell belting out tracks such as “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” “Sad Mary,” “Love 74,” “Things are Getting Better,” and a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone,” but also with the underrated guitarist Les Harvey (band founder and brother of the “sensational” Alex Harvey, who would be fatally electrocuted on stage only a few short years later) and bassist/vocalist James Dewar (who would soon join with Robin Trower to create a string of classic albums), the band’s lineup, rounded out by keyboardist John McGinnis and drummer Collin Allen, simply smokes!

Of course, the band would go on to release one additional top-class album (Teenage Licks) in ’71 without Dewar and McGinnis, and another (Ontinuous Performance) in ’72, just after the death of Harvey, where the remaining musicians quickly hired Jimmy McCulloch (Small Faces/Wings) to finish the album. But surviving in the wake of such a tragedy proved too difficult, and Stone The Crows fell apart shortly afterward. A shame, really, since as heard especially on its self-titled debut and Ode to John Law, the band possessed a unique style, had undeniable chemistry, a seemingly endless drive, and a knack for skillfully incorporating touches of numerous influences into its sound.

(RIP to Les Harvey, James Dewar, and Jimmy McCulloch, true legends and horribly missed.)

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