After Forever - Invisible Circles


After Forever Fan
May 2, 2004
Virginia Beach
Hi. This is my first post to the UM forum. I've browsed quite a bit but AF's new album has brought me out of hiding, especially because I don't see much AF discussion on these boards. Here is the review I typed up this morning. Please enjoy. :)



Well, I've given After Forever's new CD, Invisible Circles, about 2-3 weeks to really sink in. My overall impression is pretty simple: This album would be any other band's best album; but it's After Forever's album, and it has to compete with Decipher (which, if I haven't made it clear, is the best album ever written). That said, Invisible Circles still takes the #2 spot in my top 5. (Sorry, Iced Earth, Horror Show drops to #6 all time.)

I believe that the reason why this album falls ever-so-short of Decipher for me is the lack of individuality of the songs. This could be due to one of two things: Mark Jansen's departure from the band, or the fact that the album is a concept album. My true feeling is that it's the latter, but we really won't know until the next full-length album they release. Decipher's songs are each individually instantly recongizable and they each stand on their own as masterpieces. Songs like My Pledge of Allegiance I & II, Forlorn Hope, Intrinsic, and Estranged are great examples. And, to an slightly smaller extent, Prison of Desire's songs are the same way. Invisible Circles is an undeniable accomplishment (I've given it my #2 spot on my favorite CD's ever -- so I am in no way criticizing it) but its individual songs don't blow me away quite like AF's older stuff.

All that being said, After Forever is still After Forever, and the songs are AMAZING. I want to make that perfectly clear: other than the songs not being individually as good as AF's prior stuff (that's like saying The Two Towers isn't as good as The Return of the King), IC is a tremendous album and I have no worries AT ALL about the direction that AF is taking with their music.

Invisible Circles
is probably the best starter album for someone new to After Forever. It has fewer of the "extremes" that turn some people off - less opera vocals, less cookie vocals, and less extremely heavy stuff. That makes it much more accessible to people new to the band. If you have never heard AF's stuff, I give this album my highest recommendation as an introduction to the band. I'm not sure if it's been released in the US yet; I splurged for the limited edition autographed by the entire band at It still was only around $25US.

What follows are my stream-of-consciousness song-by-song impressions. Be warned, it is quite long and rambling but I think it's good reading to get a better impression of my overall feelings on the individual songs.

1 - CHILDHOOD IN MINOR - Typically AF will have a short instrumental to start off a CD. Invisible Circles is no different, though using the term "instrumental" to describe this track is a bit of a stretch. It's just sounds of children playing, with some soft piano in the background. Skippable.
2 - BEAUTIFUL EMPTINESS - When this song starts off, you know exactly who you are listening to - it's vintage AF. Crunchy guitars and choir and that *something* that AF has that no other band has. I have a hard time putting it into words, but "it" is what makes AF reign as my favorite band. This song is a great intro to the disc - it's a nice mix between crunch, acoustic, flesh-and-blood string instruments, Floor's soprano and Sander's grunts (it's hard to tell Mark Jansen is even gone), with some choir thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there is that story thing (this is a concept disc), but I have thusfar only concentrated on the music so the lyrics and story will have to come later.
3 - BETWEEN LOVE AND FIRE - More of the acoustic guitar like the intro to the EP Exordium to start this one out - I like that they have started to incorporate some acoustic into their music. That's new for them, and it works. But it doesn't take long for the kick-ass crunchy riffing to kick in. AF demonstrates their mastery of vocal juxtaposition once again in this song -- I've always loved how they counter Floor's angelic soprano with the grunts and screams; in this song, they add Bas's clean male vocals as a third counterpoint. The result is spectacular. The only problem with this song is the ridiculously GAY spoken break in the middle. OMG, AF, what were you thinking? I understand why it's there - it serves to move the story forward. It just doesn't work for me at *all*. I don't mind spoken parts in music, but they should have made them background to the music, not the other way around. Thankfully, it only lasts about 45 seconds and then the brilliant vocal parts start. (I've said it a thousand times before, and I will continue to say it: Floor Jansen is the best singer I have ever heard. I'm pretty sure she's an angel.)
4 - SINS OF IDEALISM - Starts with a cool little bass intro, and then the riffing with the choir. No one does it like AF. Their riffs rival Iced Earth for sheer in-your-face, kick-your-ass, bang-your-head coolness. Floor is on fire here: "And I will close my eyes and fantasize of a world that's not so cold." Floor doesn't hit as many of the super-high, operatic notes on IC as on previous albums (which some people might like - not me) but she is *ON* on this song. This song is FULL of ear candy -- the choir is in the background for almost the entire song and adds an indescribably cool effect with the killer guitars. And, as I said, Floor really shines.
5 - ECCENTRIC - After the very quick and in-your-face opening to the album (I can't believe I've been listening for over 15 minutes already), the slow-down into Eccentric is perfectly placed. This has quickly become my all-time favorite AF ballad (trust me, that's saying a lot). It's just Floor and a piano, and, honestly, I don't even notice the piano. This is Floor's song, and she nails it. I've not heard such emotion from her since Ephemeral off of Prison of Desire. "Wow" is truly the only way for me to describe it. Chills. The Netherlands is so lucky.
6 - DIGITAL DECEIT - The transition from Eccentric into this song is extremely well done - strings slowly building up to bring the guitars back in. After that, there isn't much that stands out about this song. It's pretty typical AF. Nice crunch, good tempo changes, and Floor is great as always. A good choir break in the middle. (Flesh-and-blood string instruments sound so much better than their digital counterparts - I wonder how they do that live? [You know, I hadn't noticed how prevalent the strings are on this disc until just this listen.])
7 - THROUGH SQUARE EYES - One of the best songs on the album. A KICK-ASS opening riff, with the ubiquitous strings behind it. Oh, and the dueling voices of Sander and Floor - LOVE IT. (I wish my computer at work could play this louder :D. In fact, if I wasn't at work, I'd be banging my head right now.) Floor shows a different side of her voice in this song - more of an off-key, aggressive style. The acoustic guitar makes another appearance in the middle and sounds great. And it makes the perfect lead-in for Floor to go off: "FREE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Damn, girl. Followed by an awesome instrumental/choir break. That violin is simply awesome! The layers of sound they manage to create on every single song never cease to amaze me.
8 - BLIND PAIN - The heaviest song on the album, and holy shit, it's intense. And, yet, with all the heaviness, they always manage to get a choir (in this case, I think it's the keys on the "voice" sound) and strings behind it all. Killer. It's this attention to detail that sets AF apart in my mind. Then, at around 2:50, it all comes to a screeching halt for a piano break. The tempo changes are fast and furious in this song. I love the string solo that starts at 3:40. This song has so much going on that I can't type fast enough. Then ----- SCREEEEEEEEEEEECH! They cut it all off with another 2-minute spoken break. UGH. This could have been the best song on the album but the voice actors are just horrible. Man. Yes, yes, I understand why it's there. It's just gay. *shrug*. At least they did me the courtesy of putting it at the end of the track so I can just skip to #9. :)
9 - TWO SIDES - The first 30 seconds of this song may be the best intro to a song I have ever heard. The first time I heard it my jaw dropped. It's actually very Evergreyish, which is a side of AF I've never heard. It works though, and well. (Incidentally, there are sound samples on AF's website from IC. One of the samples is from this song. I can't believe they didn't choose this intro as their sample...) After the intro, they give you a little time to recover with more acoustic guitar - have I mentioned that I really like that they've added that element to their music? :) After a verse or two, they bring back the intro melody and then incorporate it in various forms for the rest of the song. This is probably my favorite song on the album - if I have anything to complain about, it's that it's too short. At 4:34, the frantic pace of the song makes it go by way too quickly. Luckily, it has kind of a logical transition into...
10 - VICTIM OF CHOICES - Probably could have been combined with Two Sides to make one track, but I can see the logical separation between the two. This song is (what else?) crunchy as hell, and Floor, Sander, and the choir (male, female, and both) are everywhere. Damn, what can I say? I'm being so overwhelmed with things to say that nothing is actually getting written. It's sonic overload.
11 - REFLECTIONS - This song opens with kind of a Liquid Tension Experiment-eque opening with bass, piano, and drums. It's like nothing AF has ever done - they have really expanded their musical spectrum with this disc. Floor is in her higher range again here - I'm loving it. The instrumental break is short but way cool. After that, Bas has a nice clean vocal piece accompanied by violin and piano, which leads into (of course - hehe) a heavy-as-hell part with Sander's grunts and screams. Brilliant. And let's not forget the choir solo! The song closes with a lone piano on the highest octave.
12 - LIFE'S VORTEX - Opens up slowly (for AF, anyway) and it's mostly Floor's show for the first 1:30. Then we get the full sonic soundscape that AF manages so well. Oh man, and then at 2:22 we are treated to 7 of the coolest musical seconds I have ever heard. Simply awesome. And there is the obligatory organ. Every AF disc has one song that throws in a short organ solo. You wouldn't think organ would work, but they never overdo it and it is always unexpected and way cool. After a choir solo, it's back to Floor and the mandatory "triumphant" musical sound that ends just about every concept album out there. You know what I'm talking about. Not being musically inclined, it's hard for me to describe, but you always recognize it when you hear it. And, with that, Invisible Circles is done. I'm left breathless. Time to listen again! :)

Whew! I've managed to waste the better part of a work day on this so I ought to sign off now, but this band deserves the extra time. Bless you if you've made it this far. I'd give my left arm to see them live - I think that's a major motivation for my constant public praise of them. I want to spread the word, especially in the US, with hopes that AF will someday make it out here for a tour. There is always hope.......

Nice review. I just got into AF a couple of weeks ago and I am totally into them. I ordered prison, decipher, and circles and can't wait to get them. (well...I downloaded most of the tracks already because I can't wait :worship: ). I agree with what you said, especially about that story part in 'between love and fire' - completely ruins the song and puts the whole album down a notch in my book.

Everything about this band is killer. This is the best band I've discovered in years (since I found Nightwish). I can't believe it took me this long. I had seen the name After Forever but never bothered to check them out before.

I wish they would come to the US for a tour!! I know you agree trtn. :)