After Forever – Prison Of Desire (2000) Album Review

I had to come up with a review about this album since I specifically mentioned it when I reviewed Epica‘s 2007 opus, The Divine Conspiracy. After Forever is one of the most important female fronted symphonic gothic metal band. A band that rivaled for years with another important dutch symphonic metal band, Within Temptation. If I have to find the most appropriate band that would compete with this one in the style approached, Tristania would be the perfect choice, since both bands introduced clean female vocals and harsh male vocals, a continuation of the “beauty and the beast” concept developed by precursors such as The Gathering (when Anneke van Giersbergen joined them) and Theatre of Tragedy (with Liv Kristine as the front woman). After Forever’s style of play is not far from what Nightwish used to play in their early years but there are several difference that need to be mentioned.

The first one stands in the style of vocals Floor Jansen has to offer. Her voice is nothing compared to Tarja Turunen, she does not sing in higher tone, she does not possess a high pitched voice, so, in other words, the style that band approached had to fit her style of singing as well. Basically, instead of choosing an operatic style like Nightwish did, they wanted to approach a symphonic style influenced by gothic metal as well. Now, people claim that it is hard to label After Forever as a gothic metal band. Surely the female clean vocals are there, we have a choir, we have harsh male vocals, but it is still not enough. However, it is nor right nor wrong, gothic metal fans will definitely think of After Forever as one such band and they will surely love it. Floor Jansen‘s voice, without further adds, it is a normal voice, the thing that makes her voice special, is the style developed by After Forever’s creator, Mark Jansen, the man that will pave the style for his future project Epica, after leaving in 2002 from After Forever, band that will change their style a little bit as well.

I want to say that After Forever shined while Mark Jansen was in the band. The style they play in this album is much more spicy and unique than the one approached after his departure. Floor’s voice is mysterious and much more intense in this album, Mark Jansen’s vocal performances are also as good as they can be, influenced a little bit by early death metal acts such as Chris Barnes when he was still a member of Cannibal Corpse. Though the fact that he chose grunts over growls, made this band seem more gothic than death metal, even though gothic metal is a style that derived from death metal.

Through this album you can hear more than one influence. We can sense death metal influences given by the harsh vocal performance, we can witness a combination between symphonic and gothic metal when Floor’s voice kicks ass, the instrumental from time to time gets more mellow and melancholic, indicating some doom metal influence. A thing that needs to be mentioned about After Forever is that they originally were an Iron Maiden cover band and when they started recording, they chose to approach a death metal style until Floor Jansen joined them and forced them to expand their horizons towards different playing styles.

For a debut album, Prison of Desire is a solid one, an album that shows a lot of promise, an album indicating an After Forever that in the future might get more attention with such high quality releases. The style they introduced has a different touch, a touch that was not felt in other symphonic or gothic metal acts. If we judge by timeline, they released this opus at the same time Tristania released theirs. So we cannot speak about a band that copy/pasted the style of another band.

Like I said in Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy album review, The Embrace That Smothers story has been introduced with this album. It is featured in songs such as Mea Culpa (The Embrace That Smothers – Prologue), Leaden Legacy (The Embrace That Smothers – Part I), Follow In The Cry (The Embrace That Smothers – Part II) and Yield to Temptation (The Embrace that Smothers, Pt. III). Pretty solid songs so to say, all of them showing a nice harmony created by the perfect usage of choir performances, offered by artists such as Hans Cassa, Caspar De Jonge, Yvonne Ronda and Melissa ‘t Hart. One thing can be quickly observed in this album. It was not intended to be heavy at all, absolutely all songs are approached in the same manner. The element that might make this opus inaccessible might be Mark Jansen’s grunted vocals, even I believe that the opus might’ve been probably a little bit better without them, since this record is pretty much intended for a wider audience, thus much more accessible in sound and vocal performance.

Songs such as Black Tomb and Tortuous Threnody remark themselves through their length, exceeding over 6 minutes in length. If I were to choose the best tracks from this opus, I’d go with Semblance of Confusion, the third track preceded by the first two tracks from The Embrace That Smothers mini story, Ephemeral, probably one of the softest tracks in this record, and one of the most melancholic ones and the last one, Beyond Me, a track that features a splendid performance offered by Within Temptation’s front woman, Sharon Den Adel. Her voice together with Floor Jansen’s one make one of the most brilliant duets, both of them being important representatives of the female movement within the metal scene, and why not, probably the most well known metal performers around the globe. Sharon Den Adel has a voice that is very similar with Floor’s, a normal one, not a soprano vocalist.

To conclude with this opus, you will definitely find something interesting in it. A perfect combination between choirs and metal elements, a perfect duo given by Floor and Sharon Den Adel, some interesting harsh vocals offered by Mark Jansen, who wants to continue “the beauty of the beast” concept with this band as well and an interesting approach of the symphonic metal genre. I had the luck to see After Forever before their disbandment in 2009, definitely a band that was worth to be seen on stage. They used to offer great performances, too bad that they had to disband so early and with so few opuses offered as legacy. Nonetheless, After Forever fans have not forgotten them, and their music will be carried on by the people that witnessed this bands glorious years. Too bad I could not see them with Mark Jansen in the line-up, but an Epica that is probably much better, and much more mature than After Forever was at that time, I think that it is enough and satisfactory as it is. I support the bands that would just go out of business instead of dragging themselves with severe line-up changes or instability or with clearly a lack of quality in their works. After Forever was not a band that offered a lack of quality in their opuses, so I definitely regret the fact that they had to disband so soon. I’m still glad their music lives on, and it will be around for quite a while, since their contribution was not insignificant. Prison Of Desire might not be their best album, but it was a good album for their debut, it is definitely worth listening.

Overall Impression: 82/100