First a confession: To me Fates Warning were never anything but a Queensrÿche light. Yes, I know that both bands started out pretty much at the same time and that they probably share influences more than any of them being influenced by the other. But Queensrÿche became bigger quicker and when I first lent Fates Warning an ear, I was already a Queensrÿche fan since many years. The first time I heard Fates Waring was when Headbanger’s Ball played the video for “Eye Eo Eye”, the first single off their then brand new album Parallels (1991). For a Queensrÿche fan as myself, that song was pure heaven and I bought Parallels the following day. Now, I have never heard the John Arch fronted line-up that released their first records Night On Bröcken (1984), The Spectre Within (1985), Awaken The Guardian (1986) and No Exit (1988) and it took me quite a while to finally get my shit together and give the debut Ray Alder sung album Perfect Symmetry (1989) a spin, but I have no doubts that Fates Warning were never better than on Parallels, neither before or after. The follow-up Inside Out from 1994 was a really good album, but nowhere near its predecessor and the next album to be released, 1997’s A Pleasant Shade Of Gray sure had its moments but was to me underwhelming and to this day I can’t remember one song on that record. That’s when I lost interest. That means that I haven’t heard a note from the following albums Disconnected (2000) and FWX (2004). After that album nothing much happened with the band until 2009 when the Alder version of the band did some reunion shows here and there. The Arch fronted version also reunited for one show this year and they will also play the Prog Power festival in the US in September. It would take the band, with Alder as the singer, up until 2013 to finally get a new product out, but the album – Darkness In A Different Light – didn’t match any expectations. It was quite shocking to learn that the band’s come back album sounded tired and lifeless – a huge disappointment. All this meant that when the band was set to release their new album, I was hardly interested at all. But even though there are shitloads of albums that I have to listen to and review, I still couldn’t keep my ears off Fates Warning’s latest effort – and this is what the album told me.
The seven minute opener “From The Rooftops” starts soft, but quickly turns into a somewhat Dream Theater influenced metal piece which takes Ray Alder into a more aggressive mood – at times he reminds me of Jeff Scott Soto on his own metal project Soto. I really dig this tune and it immediately started thinking that this sounds way more relaxed and passionate than the last album. “Seven Stars” must be the leading single from this album. It’s way more direct, the melody is very memorable and I almost get a hit feel from the chorus. But the song is still heavy and driven and it’s reminiscent of the sound on Parallels – a real killer! “SOS” continues where “Seven Stars” left off albeit on a way more progressive and heavy route and to describe it as Queensrÿche meets Dream Theater is not far-fetched at all. Add some Inside Out vibes and the winner is complete. The first of the album’s two epic tracks that runs over 10 minutes is “The Light And Shade Of Things”, a highly progressive pop-metal number that starts out slow and mellow before turning into a heavy number. The ballad-like break adds to the dynamics and the 10 minutes just rushes by – way to go, boys, it’s a magnificent tune. “White Flag” has the band visit Parallels again and while it sure has its progressive undertones, this is a more straight ahead breed of hard rock and metal. Also, the chorus is striking and goes for the throat and takes a hold right there – great stuff! For us who loves Parallels, “Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen” is pure heaven – the tune that leans the most towards that album on this record. Heavy, but memorable, progressive, yet catchy, but never cheesy – an amazing track! The second epic 10 minute song “The Ghosts Of Home” turns out to be the best song on the album. It opens with a kind of spoken word thing that sounds like it’s coming from a TV somewhere and it’s a cool starter as it adds to the atmosphere when the song kicks off. It’s heavy on riff happiness and the song goes in an Iron Maiden meets Dream Theater at a Queensrÿche song writing session direction with all the great elements of classic Fates Warning that gives the song its own sound and identity. The song takes a few turns around the block music wise but somehow they made the song memorable and not hard to get into at all – brilliant! The title track that finishes the album is an experimental and eclectic instrumental with a spoken word in the mix. At first I get a bit of a Pink Floyd feel, but mostly I think of Sieges Even when I hear this. It’s a pretty cool, but in all honesty, I could have been without it – I’d prefer another “real” song instead.
The deluxe edition comes with an acoustic bonus CD, half of it consisting of covers. The CD starts out with a version of “Firefly” from their last album Darkness In A Different Light and it works as that songs is one of the best tracks on that album. “Seven Stars” turns out to work out just as splendidly as an acoustic tune as the electric one that is on the main CD – it’s a damn fine piece of music, this one. “Another Perfect Day” is from the FWX album and as I haven’t heard the song before, I don’t have anything to compare it with. Any good, then? Well, it’s ok, but I didn’t really notice it that much. Then the covers starts. “Pray Your Gods” is a Toad The Wet Sprocket cover and that band has completely passed me by, haven’t heard a note of their music and as this tune really doesn’t speak to me at all, I probably never will. It’s not bad, it just is. Joaquin Rodrigo is a name I got the first glimpse of when I read the track list for this album. Sure, it’s an ok song – sung in Spanish – but it’s not anything that grabs me at all. The last song is a cover of Uriah Heep’s “Rain” and Heep is another band I’m not that familiar with which is weird as I love all of the contemporary bands such as Sabbath, Purple, Zeppelin. I must have heard this song before because I sure recognize it and yes, this is very good. However, I can’t help but to feel that the deluxe edition is for the diehards out there. Personally, I wouldn’t spend any extra green on it.
There’s really only one way to sum this review up – Fates Warning have made their best album since Parallels – yes, their new album is that good. Where the last album fell flat and sounded insipid and uninspired, this one has a spark, a drive and everyone is firing on all cylinders. It’s also cool to hear Ray Alders more aggressive vocals which also breathes fire into the production. I have no idea what kicked them into motion this time, maybe they felt that the last record lacked something and was determined to get it right this time. And got it right, they did. Welcome back for real, guys – and please keep on bringing us more of this.
Other Fates Warning reviews:
1. From The Rooftops
2. Seven Stars
4. The Light And Shade Of Things
5. White Flag
6. Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen
7. The Ghosts Of Home
8. Theories Of Flight
Disc II [acoustic bonus tracks]
2. Seven Stars
3. Another Perfect Day
4. Pray Your Gods (Toad The Wet Sprocket cover)
5. Adela (Joaquin Rodrigo cover)
6. Rain (Uriah Heep cover)