Review Summary: This album is for die-hard fans only. The production is dated as are most of the riffs and vocals, but it is a good indicator of what was to come on the next album.
When Fates Warning started out people accused them of sounding like an Iron Maiden
clone, but this is a comparison that I never agreed with. What is certain, though, is that their first album was nothing more then some fairly standard eighties metal with a few interesting elements. Fortunately, Fates Warning progressed in leaps and bounds thereafter, starting with this release, The Spectre Within
. This album is where John Arch started to experiment with layered vocal harmonies, and the band began to branch out into the realm of Progressive Metal.
The opening track, “Traveler in Time”, shows that the band still had a long way to go before reaching the heights of their next album Awaken the Guardian
, but it also confirms that the foundation was at least being laid. The riffs are fairly standard mid-paced chugging power chords, with John Arch’s high-pitched wail over the top. John’s vocal melodies through most of this song are simple with only the occasional nod to the more complex nature of what they would soon become. The conventional nature of his vocals demonstrates the limitations that his actual singing voice has when not layered, and when the music cannot back him up.
Subsequent tracks do little to change the idea that Fates Warning still had a ways to go before reaching the quality of their next album. From time to time they throw in dual guitar harmonies, a melodic lead or a quick change in musical direction, but for the most part the music dwells firmly in the standard chugging riffs of the era. Also, by the mid-point of the album John’s vocals start to become slightly irritating due to the unchanging high-pitched nature of his voice. In the next album (and his final) he is able to avoid sounding tedious and redundant due to the complex harmonies he came up with, and the fact that he sometimes had multiple layers of his voice all singing differently at the same time, but on this one where his voice is singular, he’s just barely passable.
It isn’t until the fifth track, “The Apparition”, that the quality rises above average and they really show their potential. John makes the best use of his layered vocal harmonies (for this album) on this song, and the music starts to finally display a Progressive edge mixed in with the conventional riffs. This song also features a great break in the middle where everything comes together better then anywhere else in the album. The riffs display an energy and complexity not shown in previous songs, the vocal melodies actually seem to fit, and the drummer actually sounds like he is interested in playing with the band.
The final two tracks maintain this higher quality with “Kyrie Eleison” being one of Fates Warning’s more aggressive songs in their career (and also one of my favorites). It starts with a good dual guitar harmony before the main riff comes galloping in. The song never lets up from beginning to end, and I’m sure it was a fan favorite live due to its energy. The closer, “Epitaph”, is the long-winded and moody song that fans have now come to expect from Fates Warning. It has various movements and moods during its twelve minute duration and is a great way to close out the album.
Having to put this album into the context of the new millennium, I can’t recommend it to many people, despite the fact that I really like it. The production is a bit hollow and dated, as are most of the riffs and vocals. Anyone wanting to delve into Fates Warning’s past would be better off starting with what many consider their peak, Awaken the Guardian
, or getting a later album with Ray Alder singing since those albums all have a much more modern edge. This album is only going to be interesting to people who love Fates Warning and would like to hear their musical progression and see how they started out, but those people probably didn’t need a review that is twenty-three years late to decide to do that.