After Forever

Prison of Desire

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After Forever's debut album, 2000's Prison of Desire, is a courageous, albeit flawed first study into an admittedly daunting undertaking: to wed heavy metal with progressive rock arrangements and classical music orchestration -- then top it all of with equal parts gruesome cookie-monster vocals and a fully qualified opera singer! Needless to say, the end results are frequently shocking, occasionally stunning, sometimes not up to scratch, but rarely anything less than fascinating. Early offerings such as "Leaden Legacy," "Semblance of Confusion" and "Follow in the Cry" (with its distinctly creepy whispers) are most effective because they keep things relatively short and to the point. Paving the way with good hooks and memorable choruses, they do a better job of boiling down the wide range of ingredients cluttering up the band's spice-rack than more free form and progressive excursions like "Black Tomb" (introduced by dense organs) and "Tortuous Threnody" (which is as confusing as it sounds). Also, despite the odd thrashy bit now and then (see the impenetrable "Inimical Chimera" and the rather excellent "Yield to Temptation"), Prison of Desire relies a tad too heavily on lazy doom metal for its overall pacing. Not that this would normally pose a problem -- it's just that, when applied to these songs' more delicate and refined aesthetic, the brute, absolute crush that makes for the best doom is simply canceled out by often drifting and maudlin passages. Therefore, it's no surprise that After Forever's better realized albums yet to come would generally speed things up considerably in order to achieve full-fledged power metal velocity. For now, it's also evident that both the band and soprano frontwoman Floor Jansen were still finding their feet, sharpening their songwriting and performance chops (how about those crazy lyrics?), and working on experiments that would lead to a far more satisfying follow-up in 2002's triumphant Decipher.

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