I write reviews for musical albums. My main genre is metal, but I will probably do some hard rock as well. Any reviews other than the two most recent are shown on the right hand side under the "Blog Archive" tab. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

After Forever- Decipher

Source: Wikipedia

Band:  After Forever

Album:  Decipher

Year: 2001

Score: 9.5/10

“Probably the Best Symphonic Metal Album Ever”

For me, symphonic metal has always been an iffy topic.  Some bands are incredible, but many are just plain mediocre.  One of the standout bands in the genre has always been After Forever.  Decipher is the band’s magnum opus- a challenging work that, for me, defines the symphonic metal genre.

The overall feel of the album is dark and elegant.  Layers of guitar are supported by deep orchestral backdrops… perhaps it could be described the other way around as the orchestra often provides the lead melodies for the songs (“Monolith of Doubt”, “Intrinsic”) even though the guitars are more powerful.  The songs are often brooding and complex.  The structures are experimental for the genre, and honestly the most experimental I’ve heard from the band.    Due to this, there is an element of progressiveness to the songs.  There is also a surprisingly good sense of dynamics.  Many songs contain soft passages weaved throughout the heavy riffs, making the songs more intriguing.  One of the only true downfalls is that the album gets a bit monotonous.  The songs are somewhat similar and often follow a similar pattern.  Given my high score it’s obviously not a huge part of the experience but, it does deserve to be noted.

The individual performers are good at what they do.  Obviously, the vocals are where the album shines the most.  Floor Jansen is easily one of my favorite vocalists, and Decipher contains some of her finest performances.  Her vocals are far more operatic on this album than on the later work of After Forever, and she uses this operatic style alongside an equally effective style more reminiscent of rock vocals.  The guitars are largely rhythmic, usually playing support to the orchestra.  They are highly precise and suit the music well.  The keys are similar to the guitars, that is, they play support to the orchestra.  They tend to be more atmospheric than the guitars and, thus, are not nearly as irritating as the keys of similar bands.  As mentioned previously, the orchestra (along with the vocals) provides the melodies for the songs.  These instruments are actually kind of low in the mix, which lends an atmospheric feel to the album- very tasteful.  The drums and bass guitar are solid for the genre, both being precise but not particularly flashy.  The only low point in performance is the harsh male vocals.  They’re way too polished, almost as if a robot was grunting into the microphone.  The high growls are particularly annoying.  Other than this, the harsh vocals are used well.  That is, they are well placed and suit the songs and Floor Jansen’s voice.  So, overall, they’re tolerable but not much more than that.

After the atmospheric introduction “Ex Cathedra”, the album truly begins with the steady rocker “Monolith of Doubt”.  It’s not my personal favorite but is, nevertheless, a very good opening song.  It’s followed by the more impressive “My Pledge of Allegiance #1”, a progressive tune with an Arabic influence in the melodies.  This is easily one of my favorites off of the album for many reasons, most notably the complexity of the song and the catchy melodies.  Floor Jansen has some very impressive vocal moments throughout this song, in particular.  Following this song is the very accessible “Emphasis” and the elaborate “Intrinsic”.  The former is the easiest song to listen to on the album, while the latter is a slow-building piece with a truly fantastic climax.  “Intrinsic” is, without a doubt, another favorite from the album.  The next piece, “Zenith”, isn’t exactly bad- I just do not like it as much as the previous songs.  Still, it’s an excellent piece and well worth a mention.

The next song is the incredible “Estranged (A Timeless Spell)”, another excellent piece where the vocals are complemented perfectly by the rhythmic guitars.  “Imperfect Tenses” comes next.  It’s a ballad and my least favorite from the album.  While it’s not awful, it does become cheesy and irritating after awhile.  This is the song I am most compelled to skip.  Luckily the second installment of “My Pledge of Allegiance” comes next.  It pretty much follows the trend of the first song and ends up being successful, though not quite as good as the other song in the saga.  “The Key” follows and features one of the best vocal performances from the band.  It was my first favorite, and is still my “go-to” song from the album.  The closing song is entitled “Forlorn Hope” and is a fitting way to end the album.  It’s intense, in the vein of the “My Pledge of Allegiance” saga and ends up being a favorite; a classy ending to a lovely album.  There’s also a bonus track called “For the Time Being” that is surprisingly good and worth checking out with the other songs.

Decipher will certainly be enjoyed by fans of symphonic metal and possibly even fans of gothic, progressive, and power metal.  It’s a diverse album filled with majestic twists and turns.  I’m skeptical to say that this will be a metal classic one day, but it might be.  It will certainly be a classic to those who are into the more melodic forms of heavy metal.  Therefore, I recommend it to such people; fans of heavier forms of metal should give songs like “The Key” and “My Pledge of Allegiance #1” a shot.  Decipher is a very impressive album, I highly recommend it.

Best songs:  “The Key”, “Emphasis”, “Intrinsic”, “Estranged (A Timeless Spell)”, both of the “My Pledge of Allegiance” songs, and “Forlorn Hope”.

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