Review Summary: This is not an unofficial Fates Warning release, nor is it "Awaken the Guardian" Part II. This is modern, guitar-driven progressive metal featuring an all-star lineup that manages to avoid falling into a cycle of self-indulgent tangents.
It’s no secret that Arch/Matheos is made up entirely of current and ex- Fates Warning
members, but it would be wrong to think of this as an unofficial eleventh release from the band. In all honesty, Sympathetic Resonance
sounds nothing like what Fates Warning have been doing lately. By extension, despite the fact that this album features three-fifths of the classic Awaken the Guardian
line-up, this isn’t a sequel to that release. When pressed, the band have said that if there has to be a comparison made it should be to the John Arch
EP, but even that is misleading. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t the industrial-tinged prog of current Fates Warning releases, nor is it the fantasy power/prog of Arch-era Fates Warning and it’s not even really similar to the melodic prog of that two-song John Arch release. Sympathetic Resonance
is a near-constant collection of heavy riffs combined with melodic leads and a ton of progressive metal nuances that doesn’t dilute the formula with keyboards, samples or extended subdued passages.
For long-time fans, that description is probably quite a surprise considering the fact that Jim Matheos hasn’t been a part of anything ‘metal’ since No Exit
in 1988. Apparently he has just been biding his time because this album is straight-up progressive metal from start to finish. Having said that, the opening track actually begins with a single ominous guitar melody and John Arch’s vocals, but the subtlety is very short lived. It only takes a few moments before the band is fully committed to belting out riff-after-riff for the majority of the next eleven minutes that make up “Neurotically Wired”. Over the course of that song the band goes through more twists and turns than some bands make over the course of an entire album, and they do it without any of the over-indulgences that generally plague extended prog tracks. Following a brief – it’s only five minutes long – second track, the band move into the center-piece of the album, the fourteen-minute “Stained Glass Sky”. Without a doubt, this is the track where the band pulls out all the stops and simply showcases every positive facet of their sound. There’s the extended opening instrumental section featuring some of Frank Aresti’s most shredding solos over a handful of frenzied riffs and the chaotic, yet precise, percussion from Bobby Jarzombek. It’s also one of the stronger, more instant, tracks thanks to a memorable (yet not overused) chorus and John Arch’s vocal acrobatics – but if some people are going to have a problem, it will probably be with John’s vocals.
For those unfamiliar with John Arch’s history, suffice it to say that he hasn’t had anything to do with music since the mid-eighties (with the exception of a single two-song EP in 2003), but he was an exceptional vocalist. It’s also very obvious within the first few minutes of Sympathetic Resonance
’s opening track that John’s vocals are still as powerful and unique as they’ve always been, but I’d still like to reiterate the date I mentioned earlier: 1986. That was the last time John Arch sang on a full-length album (the classic Awaken the Guardian
) and his vocals stick to the upper-register associated with that time period. The real fact of the matter is that long-time fans won’t be negatively affected by his vocals at all; in fact his presence is one of the biggest selling points. On the other hand, new listeners are definitely going to require an adjustment period due to John’s unique delivery and obvious eighties prog leanings. It’s an adjustment that they should definitely try to make, though, because John’s vocals are (and always have been) some of the best and most unique in the genre thanks in large part to his off-kilter style of vocal melody construction.
When news first broke that John Arch and Jim Matheos were collaborating again and that their backing band consisted entirely of current and ex- Fates Warning members, the message boards buzzed with comparisons even though no one had actually heard a single note of music. What it comes down to, though, is that this is a new chapter in Jim Matheos’ and John Arch’s musical careers and can’t realistically be compared to what they’ve done before. Sympathetic Resonance
is a wholly modern collection of powerful progressive metal songs that don’t rely on keyboards, industrial effects or long bouts of subtlety. It’s an album that is guitar-driven from start to finish, featuring an excellent rhythm section and the triumphant return of John Arch’s unique vocal acrobatics.