For pretty much the entirety of Ray Alder’s tenure in the band, Fates Warning has played a version of progressive metal that is, to put it delicately, deliberate. That’s a nicer way of saying that they tend to play slow, subdued music that doesn’t make much of a first impression. They position themselves as an intellectual band, but music is an emotion first, which makes many of their records feel dull.
That is not the case here. For whatever reason, a fire has been lit under the band, and “Theories Of Flight” is the heaviest, angriest record they have made in a long, long time. You get lulled into this by the opening “From The Rooftops”, which opens with several minutes of typical soft guitars, but when the band kicks in, the metallic rage is there unlike anything the band has done. Jim Matheos’ guitar tone is impeccable, Ray Alder sounds better than ever, and the band tears through a song that alternates between chugging metal and big stabs at melody.
That is the biggest surprise here, namely that Fates Warning has a stronger focus on pumping up both the metal and the melody. Listening to these songs, there is a heightened emphasis on hooks and melodies. The choruses in “Seven Stars” and “Like Stars Out Eyes Have Seen” are among the best I’ve ever heard from the band, showcasing a greater attention to the details of writing songs that work on multiple levels.
Of course, we also get two songs that break the ten minute mark. “The Light And Shade Of Things” and “The Ghosts Of Home” both leave plenty of room for experimentation, but don’t stay so long that they become a chore. Particularly, the lullaby melody at the beginning of the latter is beautiful, makes for a rousing reprise with the band behind it near the song’s end.
Fates Warning is one of those bands that I’ve always respected, but never really enjoyed all that much. I’ve felt for a long time that Ray Alder’s other band, Redemption, does this sound much better. This record borrows some of the sound and feeling from Redemption, and that results in a Fates Warning album that feels vibrant and vital at a time in their career where you might not expect it. This record is certainly a surprise, but it’s a good surprise. In this most recent round of releases by the big three that put progressive metal on the map, Fates Warning wins.