Original link – http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/26-june-cd/18134-fates-warning-theories-of-flight-insideout-music.html
By Mark Ashby
All right, let’s be brutally honest right from the off. It’s difficult to know where to start with this, the 12th album from Fates Warning. But, then, I’ve found it difficult to know where to start with the US prog metal superstars-who-never-were: they’re a band who, somehow, for all their promise, have always seemed to fall through the cracks, especially when it comes to widespread acclaim and success.
I mean, things started off well enough for them in the mid-1980s, when they produced three albums which saw them being acclaimed, alongside Dream Theater and Queensrÿche as the vanguard of the whole progressive metal thing, which in itself was seeking to meld the raw aggression of NWOBHM with the pomposity of the then nascent power metal movement and the OTT musical exploration of the dying prog rock sound. However, their career, it could be argued, tended to be something of a stop-start kind of thing, with numerous line up changes, a decreasing decline in sales and a lengthy hiatus, at least in recording terms.
‘Theories…’ is the first Fates album in quite a considerable time to feature what could be considered a consistent line up, bringing back together, as it does, the musicians who recorded 2013 “comeback” album, ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ – guitarist (and sole remaining founding member) Jim Matheos, vocalist Ray Alder, bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek. It is a consistency which is reflected in that of the album itself, as it echoes the thoughtfulness of a group of musicians given time to mold into each other and get the feel for what the others in the collective are seeking to attain.
‘Theories…’ is also, very loosely, a concept album – the first time Fates Warning have tried such an approach since ‘A Pleasant Shade of Gray’ two decades ago. Its central theme is that of change: the transience of life itself, deliberate decisions to take a different direction, alterations to our life pattern forced upon us by others, the feeling of disconnection brought about by circumstances often outside our own control and, at its essence, man’s never-ending search for a solid foundation upon which to build a life for himself and those he loves. It’s a theme which is brought across most powerfully in Alder’s stunning vocal performance: as chief lyricist, Alder extrapolates upon the central thematic by drawing on his innermost personal experiences.
This is no more evident than on, what to me is, the epic centrepiece (despite it being the penultimate track) of the album: ‘The Ghosts Of Home’ actually draws on guitarist Jim Matheos’ childhood experience of having moved home eight times in nine years, the effect – which he obviously didn’t realize at the time – this would have on his subsequent formation as the man he has today – and his latter day return to some of those places in his search for his own identity. However, Alder really brings the darkness of the subject to life, at times almost spitting the words with a venomous regret and condemnation of the situation, and at others rejoicing in the strength to rise above turbulent, often tumultuous, circumstances and find the inner resolve to shape your own destiny and identity.
The theme of a constant transient lifestyle is continued with the dreamscape of the closing title track, with its use of a sampled interview and Matheos’ winding guitar once again evoking that ever-evolving journey with its mournful yet almost elegiac twists and turns.
The last two tracks are definitely the highlights of the album, and in themselves explain my own difficulty with the album. I feel that, by and large and with one exception I will come to in a sentence or four, the preceding six songs are merely prequels to this beautiful finale. My first problem, if I’m honest, is with the opening track, ‘From The Rooftops’: the beginning of it, a muted vocal-over-guitar slice of remorseful reflection, is just all wrong… it is only when the crunch of the guitar kicks in at the 2:15 mark that you feel both the song and the album has properly started. Outside of the above-mentioned closing duotych, ‘Theories…’ other focal point is the epic ‘The Light And Shade Of Things’, which closes the first half of the album: it mixes the feelings of its title, switching from moods of joyous celebration at everything that is good in life and the spirit of an optimistic future to the guttural density of the realization of the dark moments and experiences which have brought you to such moments. And Alder’s vocal performance is, quite simply, stunning.
‘Theories…’ is an album which has me conflicted. It is an album of deeply personal motives and experiences, but there are moments when I feel that the honesty which characterizes, and strengthens, its philosophy is mysteriously missing. Having said that, it is a rich, luscious and complex offering which, despite its flaws, should be essential listening for those of us who like their thoughts provoked, their experiences challenged and exposed and their boundaries elasticated.