Review Summary: Fates Warning 8th album can be seen as the epitome of what Fates Warning do better than anyone, from “Perfect Symmetry” and forth. That is to provide us each time with an updated prog metal adaptation of the diary of our livesSo where do we begin
And what else can we say"
When the lines are all drawn
What should we do today"
These verses above introduce the listener to the 8th Fates Warning album with the rather oxymoron title, A Pleasant Shade of Grey
. The other oxymoron is that they can also be seen as a short yet descriptive summary of the band’s whereabouts prior to its release. The band’s attempt to widen its audience through a more accessible/commercial progressive metal sound with Parallels
(more) and Inside Out
(less), was unsuccessful, although both records were ranked as great or excellent, in terms of artistic success. As a result, long-time band members Frank Aresti and John Dibiase called it a day after the release of both records, due to stress and internal conflicts originating from the band’s failure “to get to the crowds”. Jim Matheos, the heart and soul of FW, did not remain with his hands crossed, though. He took the time to answer all the questions in those four verses above with a new album. The answers he and the band gave were as significant as the questions posed.
The band’s rushed urge and the subsequent failure to combine artistic and commercial success were two evils masking a tremendous benefit. From this point further, Fates Warning could finally claim uncompromised artistic freedom without the oppressive burden of commercial success on their backs, in short without having to prove anything to anyone. And this was the case. Matheos composed one big song, separated in 12 chapters. Following the structure of a book, those song chapters are related to a loose but clear concept floating around the body of the lyrics that evolves around the semiology of peoples’ hopes, dreams, guilt and regrets with respect to the fellow human being. What is, what has been and what could have been. In terms of music, the band, based on its well established progressive metal patents, forged a dark sound inspired from the blues but also from industrial. In more detail, the song chapters are comprised of few, sometimes simplistic, sometimes “similar” but highly memorable and addictive rhythms and melodies. The repetition of certain of these melodies and riffs, solidifies (along with the lyrics) the album’s nature, that of a soundtrack for a movie, existing or not, little does it matter. In addition, FW leave aside the traditional rock/metal song structures by varying, as they see fit, the magnitude of the instrumental parts in each song chapter.
As said earlier, Jim Matheos adapts all the trademark FW elements to the new album’s needs in a most prolific way. His riffing is staccato or flowing in equal portions, yet minimal altogether, while it blends superbly with his trademark semi electro-acoustic parts. The latter sound so simple and yet genuinely inspired, while they are mainly responsible for keeping the soundtrack element intact throughout the record. The rhythm section, comprised by Joe Vera (Armored Saint) and Mark Zonder, follows Matheos’s riffing and delivers top-notch musicianship. While Vera’s bass lines hold tight to the guitars for the most part, Mark Zonder’s drumming is equally precise, as it is intense and chaotic altogether. Whether he must sustain a slow or a furious pace, being at times “out” of the arrangements of the rest of the band, Zonder delivers his beats with tremendous vigor. As a result, he is stealing – at times – all the attention a listener has to give. Furthermore, his extravagant ability by which he realizes his off-key patterns for the cymbals is simply orgasmic.
Last but not least in the list of “soulless” instruments heard on the record, stands the superb job of Kevin Moore, long time friend of the band and steady session keyboard player (another oxymoron) during the previous three FW records. In this one, Moore finds an uncharted area of music expression so as to unfold his immense potential as a keyboard player, relative to his prior solo work. The gloomy nature of the music and the lyrics herein, inspires him to craft cold and minimal industrial pulses, loops and effects that lie in the background or form a complementary rhythm pillar, aiding the rhythm section when needed. Other than that, he also uses the classical piano with unmatched skill, giving the listener the impression that FW recruited a member of an established classic orchestra ensemble for their needs. Last but not least in any possible way, there lie Ray Alder’s voice and the lyrics of Jim Matheos. Simply put, this is the best work Alder ever issued, hands down and easily among the 5-10 best singer performances in progressive metal. His melodic lines are inside every song’s pace one minute, while they stand at a distance from it the next, imitating the movement of a ship in the middle of a stormy ocean. Matheos’s lyrics give Alder the freedom to impersonate nearly every aspect of human condition, always with respect to the main concept of the record. Regardless if it's shame, anger, regret or guilt, Alder is boldly letting himself be soaked in these human conditions to come eventually in the surface purged and relieved.
The sound production is immense. Although the two previous FW albums had great production as well, with this, things are ten times better. The sound of the guitars is thick, the keyboards and effects have the anticipated depth, the same holds for the drums, while the bass lines are joyfully audible. The artwork of the record is mind blowing as well, in agreement with the bleak concept of the lyrics.
Closing in, Fates Warning 8th album, A Pleasant Shade of Grey
, can be seen as the epitome of what Fates Warning do better than anyone, from Perfect Symmetry
and forth. That is to provide us each time with an updated prog metal adaptation of the diary of our lives.