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 released A Pleasant Shade of Gray
to mixed reception that grew into a collective underground aura of acclaim. Many fans and critics alike are still divided and/or undecided by the Connecticut group's constantly changing sound from the street DIY metal of No Exit
to the machine pulse of Perfect Symmetry
and to the sudden commercial sound on Parallels
and Inside Out
(the latter of which arguably contained some of their best and worst material). However, they would take this even further now, and from the start of "Part 1" is a slip of electronic vibes and dark wave influences via Dream Theater's ex-keyboardist Kevin Moore. Fates Warning wasn't progressive enough for the last half-a-decade so they took it up a notch, having Zonder skip across his drum set so intricately that it was as almost off putting to listen to. Think even more complex than "Part of the Machine." We're talking about mind-numbing beauty here in the form of progressive metal, and not everyone could handle that in 1997. 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 you could guess most progressive metal concept albums are, this one revolves namely around a person who is haunted by some form of cathartic thoughts and a severe account of regret. A Pleasant Shade of Gray
explores it through his dreams - tales of depression and a person's mentality and conscience throughout 12 untitled tracks that leave it up to you, the listener, to dissolve as you see fit. Be prepared to turn on that mental "wallowing in your own sins" switch in your brain as Fates Warning scrapes across a multitude of depressive impulses, attempting to squish them coherently as a single epic. Alder’s singing is uniquely articulated yet again throughout the performance and Kevin Moore is likely responsible for the sudden atmospheric over metal approach, but the whole affair is so far off the musical genre that it could hardly conform to any genre if it weren't for Matheos' edgy riffs and Alder's familiar attitude. The performance is somber and mechanical, and seemingly pieced together during a confusing time for the band. This is not the album you are supposed to jam to, or rock out to, or even express your anger with. Don't drink to this either, it will only make you feel worse. "Part IV" is a perfect example of what I'm getting at. There is just an overwhelming mindset of loathing the state of life in general at work here. No hope. And for that matter A Pleasant Shade of Gray
is not exactly a fun record. It's a droll record to those who left the bandwagon when Alder joined and its even disturbing to those that enjoyed Parallels
. During production the melodies had became increasingly difficult to create, leading to the band often being unhappy with themselves.
Although the bands most impressive moment here isn't instrument-wise as they obviously proved their talent in back in the late 80's, it paints a comparable line between their fans, themselves and the music that presents this a classic among concept albums. 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. It takes repeat listens and more patience than waiting at the DMV in San Fransisco on a friday. The accessibility is insistent on rejecting the listener, but its worth is mind blowing (see the last two minutes of "Part V" and "Part VIII" (or Bleed I and Winter Solstice by some fans)) And while it wouldn't do any good to bash the underdeveloped nature of the album, many fans have no doubt appreciated the approach taken with the band in that manner.
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 point is quite possibly that anguish and the expression and truth that come from regret are the most beautiful and powerful things there are.