Arcane Horizons 

Myth, magic and folklore: if you’re a routine escapist and seek out these elements in your favourite music like I do, then AFTERTIME’s upcoming orchestral metal release Arcane Horizons should be at the top of your playlist. This album takes epic to another level with a live choir and film-score-esque orchestration, seamlessly blended with metal elements – fit for any fan of Epica or Nightwish.

The opening track, Ultra Terram, serves as a powerful gateway into the album’s mystical universe. With its full live choir and brass-laden intro, the song sets a tone of epic grandeur. Despite the digital instrument sounds, the choirs infuse the piece with a more human charm, building a curiosity about the album’s thematic content. The album seamlessly transitions into Arcane Horizons laying the foundation for the album’s overarching themes. The haunting intro, characterized by percussion and strings, sets the stage for the tale that unfolds. Vocalist Sarah Wolf’s voice is a lyrical soprano with a dark touch to it, in many parts resembling the vocal style of Simone Simons (Epica). The guitar solo doesn’t have a lot of support behind it, at times causing the song to lose a bit of breadth in its sound. Towards the end, the choir returns and has an epic ending. The vocals – both Sarah’s and the choir’s – are a highlight on this track, complementing each other in harmony.

Sons Of Fenrir delves into Norse mythology with fervor, blending bursts of energy with dynamic tempo changes. The track showcases AFTERTIME’s skill in balancing speed and melody, with well-crafted harmonies and orchestration driving the narrative forward. Despite a somewhat lackluster guitar solo, the song culminates in an epic crescendo, leaving listeners yearning for more. Armored Heart delves into themes of love and loss, with emotive vocals that tug at the heartstrings. The violin-led intro sets the tone perfectly, while the orchestration builds to a cathartic climax, evoking a sense of raw emotion. Despite the guitar solo falling short, the track’s poignant finale is nothing short of breathtaking. At this point, it’s clear that it’s not that the guitar solos are necessarily lacking, but rather that the production might have better supported the guitar with additional orchestration in order to maintain the pace, tempo, and overall sound.

Of Lust And Rust offers a departure from the album’s metal sound, adopting a stripped-down style. The song allows the lead vocalist’s voice to shine, weaving a tale of longing and melancholy against a backdrop of folk-inspired instrumentation. Despite its departure from the album’s overall sound, the track proves to be a highlight with its captivating melody and emotive delivery. Amongst The Trees returns to familiar territory in full force, with fast-paced guitars and powerful growls driving the narrative forward. The track exudes a sense of tension and conflict, seemingly fitting right in the lyrical themes. It takes on a more power metal quality than previous tracks on the album. The interplay between the voice and instruments are particularly well balanced here.

Goddess Of Dark Horizons embraces operatic elements, with soaring vocals and epic orchestration that immerse listeners into the story (in the true opera style). Despite its length, the song never loses momentum, delivering a satisfying conclusion to the album’s epic journey. Verdant Siren features guest vocals by Lara Mordian (Shield Of Wings, Mordian), telling the tale found in Scandinavian folklore of a woodland creature that lures men into the forest. Beginning with ethereal, heavenly harp sounds and complemented by similarly heavenly vocals, the track’s blend of symphonic and pop elements creates a unique atmosphere. The chorus features memorable, well-structured harmonies. Lara Mordian‘s mezzo-soprano and Sarah Wolf’s soprano vocals complement each other beautifully. Druid’s Dance channels the spirit of old-school power metal, with syncopated guitars and orchestral flourishes driving the narrative forward. The track’s dynamic shifts and epic chorus leave a lasting impression. Again, the harmonies are very well done here, and the voice-only interlude adds a very epic touch. The drums grow, returning listeners to the chorus before ending with the guitar.

At this point, it begins to feel that the album is nearing its end in terms of holding listener interest – alas, there are four more songs. Lament d’Morgan offers a somber reflection on loss and redemption with the strings and Sarah’s vocals leading the song’s thematic element. Although the song feels somewhat low intensity, there are plenty of dynamics that hold the listener’s interest, and each element builds into an overwhelming sense of tragedy. Under A Midnight Sun begins with violins and possibly a stringed folk instrument that sounds like a balalaika. The drums serve as a rhythmic background that support the string melodies, but later become a main element accompanied by beautiful, celebratory choruses.

A Prophecy of Realms has a distinctly film score quality delivered in three movements. The track grows with timpani hits and piano arpeggios before the orchestra takes centre-stage again. Around a quarter of the way through, metal elements make their way into the song. The choirs and guttural vocals interact at opportune moments before giving way to the lead vocals. It feels that, for AFTERTIME, this is their interpretation of an epic like Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score. It’s well done, epic, atmospheric, and filled with changes that fit seamlessly together. By The Tavern’s Light concludes the album with a sense of closure, offering a jovial celebration of life and camaraderie. The track’s folk-inspired instrumentation and uplifting choruses create a sense of warmth and nostalgia, leaving listeners with a sense of fulfillment.

Overall, Arcane Horizons is an excellent album from an artistic perspective. To characterize it accurately, the production feels like an opera that happens to include metal, rather than the other way around. Even with the digital instrumentation considered, this album deserves to be heard on a quality audio system – headphones won’t cut it. The orchestration, live choir, and lead vocals are particularly wonderful. Even more, the production places a clear and detailed focus on narratives and thematics both lyrically and musically, showing the importance of a strong concept in developing a great musical production. This album is a must-hear for any fan of symphonic metal.

Angela Ambrose