Fates Warning returns with Theories of Flight, a predictably epic LP that solidifies the veteran act as one of the leading voices in progressive metal. Where Queensrÿche long denied its maker (at least until Geoff Tate departed) and Dream Theater has always stretched to the outer limits, Fates Warning has unapologetically forged and maintained a solitary path. You can still hear the blues in this collective’s DNA, especially when now departed guitarist Frank Aresti lets loose during the opening “From the Rooftops.” Founding member Jim Matheos delivers his patented riffing for “Seven Stars,” a tune that, despite its grounding in prog, stills sits well alongside classic Aerosmith. The choruses are memorable and the vocals are rendered within the reach of mere mortals who want to bang their fists on the dashboard and sing along.
“White Flag” proves epic and crushing in its attack, with Matheos creating a formidable wall of crunch that allows Ray Alder’s British-influenced vocals to shine. With woefully underrated bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek creating the ultimate in rhythmic adventure, there’s plenty for listeners to deep dive into. That same approach serves “Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen” well. The two are potent reminders that there’s still metal out there virtually untouched by the hands of the 1990s.
This being the world of prog, the band offers two 10-minute-plus tracks that take the listener on an imaginative journey. The first, “The Light and Shade of Things” is a slow-builder, much of it relying on Alder’s one-of-a-kind vocals and atmospheric, washy guitar lines that often lean toward jazz. When the instrumentalists go whole hog, about three minutes in, it’s precisely the burst of awesome you’ve been waiting for, one that invites you to imagine an arena full of likeminded music lovers intent on spurring the band toward climactic and victorious performances of this soon-to-be classic.
Its counterpart, “The Ghosts of Home,” builds in much the same way but embraces the group’s more technical side. No impossible guitar maneuver or drum fill is spared as we witness the full magnitude of the thing unfold before our unworthy ears. Yet, one never senses that it’s musicianship for musicianship’s sake and that these twists and turns are there to create the perfect mood and atmosphere for all that the lyrics have to offer. (The song is, largely, about what you’d expect, though it dodges clichés even while calling to mind Genesis’ “Home by the Sea.”)
The closing, titular piece gives us more of Fates’ European inflections on a track that surrenders itself to the atmosphere and then disappears without a trace. It is perhaps a suggestion that the story will continue, that in a few short years we will pick up this saga and learn more about where the winds of Fates Warning are blowing. In truth, it’s hard to imagine a record that can excite anticipation of what’s next the way this one has. That’s made more remarkable at a time when we’re told that no one buys records or listens to whole albums. What we have here, then, is a throwback to a time when people did both. Maybe, too, this kind of record can light a spark that sees a return to that kind of fandom, even if only for this one act.
At eight songs you would probably expect an album to make its case swiftly, nary a bar wasted, and that’s precisely what you get. What remains to be seen is if music fans outside the niche market that Fates has found itself in can embrace the music with the fervor the rest of us have. It seems possible, and should it happen, rest assured that no band could be more deserving.