The legendary metal band Fates Warning was formed in Connecticut, United States in 1982 by vocalist John Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos. Originally, their sound was traditional heavy metal. But they quickly adopted a more technically proficient style – influenced by Rush – and were even considered to be one of the first true prog-metal bands of the 1980s – along with Queensrÿche and Dream Theater.
Over the years, Fates Warning has released ten studio albums and two live albums. They experienced their greatest commercial success with the 1986 release of their third studio album, ‘Awaken the Guardian’.
The band now release their newest album, entitled Darkness in a ‘Different Light’ – via Inside Out Music ( their first studio album since 2004’s FWX.)
The album opens with ‘One Thousand Fires’ and – what seems like – a thousand scurrying guitars that nose into crevices and ferret around – looking for the flames. Some of these (guitars) take turns bouncing and swaying – others grab onto juts and leap up to the light. An exquisitely plucked Spanish acoustic guitar introduces the “And so we begin…” vocal. The voice is cherry red polished and ochre in timbre. It has a ceramic heat to it. Drooping, the voice nestles into a cup of guitars – this grows larger – spreading out like the petals of a cactus – and creating jagged edges and barbing hooks. A regular beat is established ( this will please the head- bangers ) and this is marked by frenzied drums that hungrily bite, grab and torment the guitars. Then a hot guitar solo rockets out – like flames from a dragon’s nostril – and it singes everything in its path. Formidable stuff!
If, like me, you loved the Joss Whedon “Firefly” space opera series, then the next song will resonate with you. You can almost hear the grumbled engines whining above – lost in an ebonite sky. And you may even perceive the contorted shapes dashing to and fro on board the “Serenity”. This is a song that speaks of allowing a creature – a precious thing that you have patiently captured and guarded – to be released into the dangerous air. The understanding is that every living being will eventually have to fly away – everything needs to be released. That ‘lettting go’ experience can be sad and bitter for the one left standing. Left watching the flight.
Continuing with these sympathetic emotions ‘Desire’ comes next. This has a weird gelatinous oscillation to it that will make your headphones tremor excitedly. Then, one-by-one, the various strands of the song are wefted together to form an intricate framework. The vacillating vibe continues – there are pin-point accurate guitar lines and an impassioned voice – but it’s the incredible flaking tapestry of drums (from Bobby Jarzombek ) that really lights up this piece.
‘Falling’ has a familiar feel to it. To be honest, it sounds kinda “Aerosmithy”. The voice is incriminating and imperiously accusative. The “I can always count on you…” chorus sounds unconvincing. Maybe it’s because we know – deep in our hearts – that our spirit is willing – but our flesh is too weak. Soon enough, this track wafts past. And we find ourselves confronted by the primordial sounds on ‘I Am.’ The Burundi style drumming – and the vertical strands of swirling guitar – all create an exotic blend of spicy veils and and misty plumes. A low grizzled bass produces a yearning growl in the background. The vocal – when it rises – platforms nobly above this clamour of sounds.
The obscure dark somnolence of ‘Lighthouse’ reminded us of ‘Opeth’. This was mainly due to the dark folk influences. The poignant sense of loss and abandonment on this track fits the overall theme of the disc. “Close to you … yet miles away/ A lingering heartbeat” sings Ray. And this feeling – it permeates through the entire piece – helps us to realize that is all about leaving a little ‘light’ in our lives. A candle of hope … a pilot light that might guide us back. We travel onwards, and ‘Into The Black.’ This is probably the saddest song on the collection. The jagged arrows of guitar splinter and fragment. Even the voice wavers and spills. A continuous punching riff marches along – like an undercurrent of formidable power. A splendid guitar eventually sparks out, to ignite a star-burst of creative energy and impossible light.
It is worth reminding yourself, when listening to this album, that there are no synths used to create the effects. The tight skirt of brilliant sounds on the ‘O Chloroform’ track, for example, are all created by guitars. The album concludes with the deft and European sounding ‘And Yet It Moves’. Performed, to start with, as a rondel piece – with interlocking acoustic guitar fragments. The temperature is then gently and intuitively increased. Until a red hot rhythm is developed. For more than three minutes the piece is purely instrumental. But a resonant riff matures. And the vocal finally eases itself free. This is a majestic composition. Filled with stellate highs and mortifying lows. this song leverages the sadness that we all possess in our hearts. But it never quite releases us from our fully doubting minds.
In some ways this album is not a surprise. The bassist Joey Vera plays an important role – creating the various nuances and precarious rhythms. And, of course, returning hero guitarist Frank Aresti is a wonderful presence. As is Jim Matheos – who not only played guitar on the disc – but was also responsible for recording and production. The percussion, by Bobby Jarzombek, is performed with the swiftness and sure-handedness of a rapier gripper. And the eloquent vocals from Ray Alder evoke passion, intrigue, clemency and even withdrawal.
It is no surprise at all, because this is exactly what ‘Fates Warning’ does. They were the true innovators and the early pioneers of progressive metal. And just because we are accustomed to Dream Theater and Symphony X now – it does not mean that the genre has become stale or that the progenitors don’t still have something important to say.
If you choose to take this road of “Darkness In A Different Light” then be prepared to experience grief and sadness. Let the sounds seep into your bones. And then let the light of inspiration shine into your heart.
– © Neil_Mach September 2013 –