After Forever

Invisible Circles

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After Forever once again went the concept album route with their third full-length effort, 2004's Invisible Circles. Only this time, the Dutch gothic-operatic-death-power-prog metal band (yes, all that!) arguably placed as much emphasis on their lyrics (discussing a young girl's coming of age tale in all matters of faith, love, loneliness, and even technology) as they did the music. Almost too much, some might argue, since the challenges of making sense of such an overwrought story line and numerous characters often distracted listeners from the band's concurrent attempts to uncork the same sort of complex yet fluidly composed prog epics heard on prior efforts. To wit: certain songs, like excellent first single "Between Love and Fire" and the conversely tepid "Blind Pain" actually break down for lengthy bits of dialogue; while special guests like Aina and Ayeron siren Amanda Somerville and Rhapsody collaborator Jay Lansford were called in to perform additional players in the drama. Nothing that a few dozen listens won't solve, mind you, and, given the chance, somewhat unfulfilling outings like "Sins of Idealism," "Digital Deceit," and the nearly flat-lining piano ballad "Eccentric" are handsomely compensated by positively dazzling efforts such as "Through Square Eyes," "Two Sides" and "Victim of Choices." All of these lead up to the suitably cathartic climax via album linchpin "Reflections." By then, After Forever's reliably brilliant musicianship and triple-threat vocal assault -- featuring spectacular soprano frontwoman Floor Jansen backed by orchestrated choirs and male vocalists Sander Gommans (grunts) and Bas Maas (clean) -- have somehow managed to salvage the day in most respects. To be sure, Invisible Circles shows many echoes of Marillion's Misplaced Childhood, and ultimately fails to conjure up a flawless single on the level of previous album Decipher's "Monolith of Doubt"; but it also proves that, with this much talent to go round, even a slightly overambitious creation can achieve remarkable results.

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