Pride & Joy Music
Release: October 19, 2018
Once is an up-and-coming German symphonic metal band formed in 2012, when keyboarder Frank Wypchol, lead singer Alina Lesnik (you probably know her cover work on youtube), guitarist Marco Paulzen, and drummer Alexander Hey decided to create a full orchestrated metal project. In 2013 they released acoustic versions of the songs “My Fairytale” and “Distorted Smiles”, originally recorded and filmed as a university project at the ArtEZ Conservatorium in Enschede, the Netherlands. In 2015 they released a three-track demo EP and soon after started work on what would be their full-length debut album. Their music video of the single “The hour of Eden's fall”, released in June 2018, gave a first impression of what to expect from “After Earth”.
Mixing symphonic drama, classical elements, with a powerful back layer of heavy guitars and drums, “After Earth” is a very dense, melodic, and theatrical concept album. The bombast is evident from the intro “Act I (overture)”, which sets a dark mood and tone for the album, and flows neatly into the first proper song, “Awake”, a full blown symphonic piece with some male vocals from guitarist Marco Paulzen, some operatic vocals from Alina, and dramatic violin lines, whose interplay give a nice dynamic to the song.
Act I (overture)
The hour of Eden's fall
Act II (intermezzo)
he sins of saints
Insane schemes of sanity
The final stage
Epilogue (a memento of our Hiraeth)
With the up-tempo “My masterpiece” the album gets some momentum going, but soon the song slows down for a beautiful piano / vocals moment and a great guitar solo, before the soaring chorus brings everything back on track. Up next are two songs that feature talented violinist Shir-Ran Yinon, the upbeat and alert “The allure”, and the melodic and emotional “Distorted smiles”. Shir-Ran’s playing adds so much dramatism and beauty to the music, especially during the violin solo on “The allure”. The heavy side of the band is presented on “The hour of Eden's fall”, with tight playing, an intense vocal delivery from Alina, nice backing orchestrations and a well-executed guitar solo. We are half-way into the album, and I have to say, I like the diversity and how detailed the songs are.
After the 2-minute interlude “Act II (intermezzo)”, the sweet and beautiful “My fairytale” sees the band going from quiet moments, with piano and violin lines, to powerful, high-energy vocal delivery during the chorus. “Phenomena” is the wild card of the bunch, as it starts off with piano but soon the urgency of the vocals kicks in and shifts the song in high gear. The weird part of the song is in its second half, with a back-and-forth between Marco’s spoken grim vocals (their term) and Alina’s almost whispered parts, but also some aggressive backing instrumentation. The album’s momentum is carried further with “The sins of saints”, a heavy song with choirs and operatic vocals, which kind of remind me of Epica. Not bad at all. My favorite track, “Insane schemes of sanity”, is more accessible and upbeat with some unexpected twists and turns, and lively vocals. The 10-minute almost progressive epic, “The final stage” again features Shir-Ran Yinon with some dynamic violin lines on the backdrop, incredible orchestration, and Marco’s harsh vocals. The atmospheric “Epilogue (a memento of our hiraeth)” closes this album, with the sound of someone scribbling something – maybe a letter to someone. A really great ending to this intense and heavy concept album.
“After Earth” is a very solid debut album from Once, showcasing their creativity, talent and songwriting skills. On the downside (1) this album is a tad longer, I mean the closing song could have been shortened to 3 minutes and (2) I wish the vocals would be more front and centered, since at times they are drowned by either the backing orchestration or the guitar work. On the plus side, Alina’s voice is very diverse throughout the album and she manages to emote different moods and emotions, as the songs require. Also, the album’s overall flow is really well-paced and it grows in intensity and drama as the story unfolds, especially in the second half of the album, with such songs as “My fairytale” or “The sins of saints” being definite highlights.
Bottom line: Creating and delivering a concept album is no small feat, but Once pulled it off with elegance and grace. Generally, with concept albums the song structure deviates from the classic format to allow for the story to develop, and they have done a wonderful job with the songwriting and execution, making “After Earth” one of the best releases of the year.
Rating: 9 / 10
Alina Lesnik – Vocals & Lyrics
Marco Paulzen – Guitars, Bass & Grim Vocals
Frank Wypchol – Keys, Piano & Orchestrations
Alexander Hey – Drums