Windows Media classifies After Forever simply as “metal,” and I can think of no better description for this recording. Any metal fan will most likely find something appealing. As with most identifiably “metal” styles, the guitar, bass, and drums are predictably unified in tight unisons, grooves, and riffs, creating a wall of sound that seemingly harnesses the voices of Nordic gods. When mythologically large guitars just aren’t big enough, After Forever refers to metal’s great-grandfather – the Wagerian orchestra.
If this description seems over-the-top, it is intended as such. There is no lack of bombast on “After Forever.” Although the traces of “classic” metal can be teased out (Dokken, Scorpions, and Dio, for example), and periodically the ghost of Dream Theater wanders the halls, it is Queensryche’s melodramatic approach that is most palpable. If you can imagine Pat Benatar singing lead for Queensryche with one of Dream Theater’s early keyboardists on board, you might be able to approximate the band’s sound.
Lead singer Floor Jansen is in incredible form on “After Forever.” Occasionally, she sheds her Benataresque rock voice and veers into fully operatic style, possibly toeing the line on acceptable bombast. I don’t like it when male vocalists go there, and now I know that I am not sexist in this prejudice. Live and learn. Most of the time, however, her voice is powerful, distinctive, and feminine – possibly one of the better lead voices working today. After Floor, keyboardist Joost van den Broek also deserves mention. At the inception of metal, a keyboardist was considered bad mojo, and bands like Europe did little to refute this conception. However, Dream Theater changed that considerably, especially when Jordan Rudess came on board. A metal keyboardist now must be both a synthesist and a technician, and Joost’s post-Wakeman approach fills both of these roles admirably. I would suggest that he is a key member of the group, a proposition that is only cemented by the searching piano track “Lonely.”
Despite having respectable proggish chops, the band is not overly technical. They strongly emphasize melody, and there is plenty to sing along with. Although they employ death-metal style grunt vocals at times, they are used sparingly and, as a result, play a great foil to Jansen’s clearly masterful performance. I might venture to call After Forever “pan-metallic” because the band dips into every possible metal genre, including prog-, thrash-, goth-, death-, symphonic-, and even pop- to create a cohesive and relatively accessible effort. If it were released during the era of Queensryche’s “Empire,” “Energize” could have garnered a level of popularity, but the day of the prog-metal single is sadly probably over.
THE LOWDOWN: If you dig metal, in any form, there will most likely be something about “After Forever” that you will like – and perhaps something that you will not. In my case, the occasional histrionics make me roll my eyes, but I can’t help but bang my head and sing along most of the time. It is a shame that, although this is my first exposure to them, this is the last After Forever project, as the band has broken up. Happily, though, they ended on a high note and now I have the pleasure of checking out their back catalog.