Review Summary: Pushing the Progressive Envelope, "No Exit" is one of progressive metal's finest moments.
It's hard to avoid mentioning it, 1988 was arguably the worst year in music. You name it, from every band popular or becoming popular was struggling to keep afloat during the 80's with a sound that would be relevent after nearly a decade of synthesizers and stripped down compact tunes. Those that hadn't died yet would soon eventually take a turn for the worse (Iron Maiden, Metallica), and drift into a commercial sound in the 90's that would be far from revered. Fellow progressive metal pioneers Queensrÿche and Voivod released landmarks of albums that meshed new genres and superimposed themselves into the world's music industry, but it wasn't until Connecticut's Fates Warning released No Exit
that they made a name for themselves out of the underground metal scene, and spent an astonishing 13 weeks on the Billboard Top 200, which was difficult for bands that didn't have the needed publicity or backing from other artists.
Although the criticisms of the band as an Iron Maiden clone in their early days are a bit harsh, Fates Warning did try to move away from that sound and to take it in a new direction, strangely firing their long-time singer John Arch in favor of someone who was actually a fan of the band, Ray Alder, amazed from his demo tape of the segment "Quietus," and pulled him in the studio shortly after. He's a good choice too, although fans of the classic metal sound of Fates Warning will find his voice too feminine and smooth compared to Arch's sharp tinge.
Fates Warning's lyrical agenda changed swifty as well, steering away from the fantasy and war-tuned lyrics to a lauded introspective, poetic style that was derivative of a cathartic mindframe and philosophy (also note the title and title track bearing strong allusions to Jean-Paul Sartre), something has remained largely with them to this day with flowing beautiful segments "Years find a mind alone whose questions flow too deep for words. covered in a shroud of silence, watching the world go by."
is rebellious, intuitive, and almost apocalyptic. The concept of "Horn and Ivory" gates are in the monumental epic "The Ivory Gate of Dreams," a 20+ minute herald of wonder that every casual or serious progressive metal fan must have. The material here exists far before the progressive genre was fully established, and for that reason the album is also a astounding work of pioneering. Guitarists and songwriters Frank Aresti and Jim Matheos both make amazing work out of their guitars on "Anarchy Divine," as well as the intricate and melodic work of "Quietus." The album works with all the wonders of a masterpiece by defining a new genre. There's poetic lyrics, ominous acoustics, heavy metal riffs, grasping emotions, and the band uses more odd time signatures into their material then Queensrÿche, their field-opposite genre rival.
There is a concept to the album. All throughout, these themes of anarchy, afterlife and dreams were concepts derived from Jean-Paul Sartre’s play of the same name, "No Exit." In the play, three people are sent to a Hell after their deaths with no way out. They await a punisher who never arrives, until they realize their biggest punishment is the company of each other and the ability to read the thoughts of the others they are trapped with. These ideas are explored in the album as well ("Silent Cries," "In A Word"). In "Shades of Heavenly Death," the album is seen from a theoretical view, a “what if” style of song. Every piece is styled perfectly, and Ray Alder wastes no time being on queue with the band. The rest of Fates Warning is on par with excellence: the drumming is rough, the guitar lines memorable and the singing is melodic. Joe DiBase (you can guess what instrument) does a magnificent job for a this era of headbanging (watch the music video of "Anarchy Divine"). To many, No Exit
is and will remain a classic. While Fates Warning was still relatively new to the music scene, this is no doubt a great point in the band's discography.
The Ivory Gate of Dreams