Review Summary: With an intricate account of depression, A Pleasant Shade of Gray is a consummate masterpiece of contemporary songwriting, a concept album unlike any other that shows pain can be beautiful.
From a hazy mood and a depressive heart, Fates Warning originally released A Pleasant Shade of Gray
to mixed reception. Many fans and critics alike were still confused from the band's consistently changing sound from the machine pulse of Perfect Symmetry
to the sudden commercial sound on Parallels
and Inside Out
(the latter of which arguably contained some of their best and worst material). However, a dark wave influence combined with it's introspective lyrics and moodiness had left many in disgust. It wasn't until later that people began to regard A Pleasant Shade of Gray
in a more positive light, and its popularity subsequently grew as the album is now considered inimitable in the progressive genre.
As a concept album revolving namely around regret and dreams, A Pleasant Shade of Gray
explores the depths of depression and a person's mentality and conscience throughout. The actual story is left up to the listener, with a progression of the person's thoughts to keep the music in tune with said listener's emotions and past regrets almost as an enjoyment, sort of a "wallowing in your own sins" kind of approach. Presented throughout 12 unnamed tracks, it flows coherently as a single epic, touching on various depressive impulses, ranging from suicidal breakdowns to apathetic feeling. The progressive feel is still as intact as ever, Zonder’s random drum fills are hard to replicate and Alder’s singing is uniquely articulated yet again throughout the performance. Kevin Moore of early Dream Theater fame also has a role on the album, and is likely responsible for the sudden atmospheric over metal approach. Although the bands most impressive moment here isn't instrument-wise, it paints a comparable line between their fans, themselves and the music that presents this a classic among concept albums.
During production the melodies had became increasingly difficult to create, leading to the band often being unhappy with themselves. It's hard not to connect that difficulty to the to the music itself. From the crackling cloud that starts off ‘Part I’ to the nine minute finale ‘Part XII’, this entire album is not something you can love at first sight. The accessibility is harsh despite it's fluidity, almost insistent of rejecting the listener. Its power is almost a process to obtain, but its worth is mind blowing and is very much parallel to an introverted thought process. Many fans have no doubt connected with the band in that manner. There is distress, revelation, and hopefulness as well as hopelessness.
And I know we can't turn back all the years
Time reflected in a shade of gray
But I often wonder what could have been
And I still hold on to yesterday
For progressive fans this is a near perfect album, but to a few it will seem irrational and bland. Fates Warning doesn't try to impress with wankery. The key point is that the anguish of regret is beautiful, a shade of gray can be pleasant indeed.
So where do we begin
And what else can we say?
When the lines are all drawn
What should we do today?