Fates Warning - Theories Of Flight

Year of Release: 2016
Label: InsideOut Music
Catalog Number: IOMCD 458
Format: CD
Total Time: 73:42:00

Fates Warning's latest release, Theories Of Flight, is full of shifting dynamics. Tracks may begin as one thing - often understated, sparse ("From The Rooftops", "The Light And Shade Of Things," "The Ghosts Of Home") - then suddenly transition into another gear, sometimes a bit crunchy, always driven. The more I listen to it - and I mean listen, not just have it playing while some other activity is going on - I find more and more to appreciate about it. There are subtleties that come out with attentive listening. Probably more than I'll capture in this review.

I cannot admit to being some long-time fan of Fates Warning. That is, my exposure has been limited to this and two previous titles (A Pleasant Shade... and Disconnected... well, and a few listens to Darkness In A Different Light), so I can't say how this compares to their (other) classic material. And truly, if a listener is looking for a band to repeat what they did on some previous album... isn't that the opposite of progressive? Grab you just the same, sure; impress with their virtuosity, yes; but one shouldn't expect [some title]-part II (unless the band is releasing [some title]-part II, I suppose). Anyway, from re-reading my previous reviews, there I made comparisons to Queensryche and Marillion. I find none of that here. Actually, what came to mind most often was Evergrey, and really that only in the way Ray Alder sings. It is in a same rich, controlled tone. In a day and age where it seems so many bands - new and old - want to scream their vocals (distorted or not), it's nice that there still are bands that can have the intensity without the histrionics.

"Seven Stars" is a track that has "single" written over it, though I don't want to imply that the band have written a pop song. It is definitely rock; it just seems more ... direct than other tracks on the album. While it has a modern sound, it occurs to me that it wouldn't be out of place had it been released 20-25 years ago. It has a certain sense of familiarity, not that it sounds like anything else to me in particular. (A thought I had, but wasn't fully formed, so don't hold me to it - Kansas, Night Ranger, if a bit heavier...).

"SOS" is a punchy piece that is less direct than "Seven Stars" that precedes it. Each instrument is doing various interesting things that all come together somehow (how I would describe classic Yes in some ways, though I am in no way saying this sounds like Yes). "The Light And Shade Of Things" begins shimmery, a bit twangy, and feels a bit like a dusty road in a small town (circa the 1800s). But soon "shows" us this same town today where the wooden buildings have been replaced by gleaming skyscrapers --- that is, shifts to a more modern rock sound; or rather, from light to shade. The lyrics are more esoteric, not at all about towns and dust (don't want to mislead anyone). And if I have a favorite vocal bit here, it's Alder singing "You're nowhere now" which reminds me of some similar sounding phrase in some other song from another time that I can't quite remember. Which isn't at all helpful to you, now is it? It occurs to me also that the countrified, shimmery guitar that intros/outros this track is a bit reminiscent of the guitar intro Metallica's "Unforgiven" (or maybe it's "One," I'm thinking of......).

While the meaning in the lyrics of nearly every track is somewhat obtuse - open to your own interpretation - the overall sense is of loss, distance, darkness, loneliness, which is underscored by a certain sense of melancholy in those softer intros. Even if the more direct message of the galloping "White Flag" is don't give up, keep going, it is a moving on despite a sense of loss. This track is where I think the band fit more in the progressive metal realm: razor sharp guitar solos (here by guest Frank Aresti); crunchy (mildly) distorted bass; vocals that are scruffy around the edges... Though I think the rapid-fire drums/percussion that launches "Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen" would demand to differ for the "prog metal" tag, dragging frenetic frets along. As elsewhere, Alder's vocals soar, here in the chorus having the effect of drawing your eyes skyward - a cathartic release from the intensity of the verses.

After all the heaviness, you'd expect, from the light, delicate guitar/vocal intro to "The Ghosts Of Home," this would be the album's ballad or softer track. Um, no. Because here they come again - in a fashion that makes me think of classic Iron Maiden (think "Wasted Years," for example, at least the guitar) mixed with a bit of Rush. This track is the "epic" of the album (at 10-plus minutes) and where I think the band is the most progressive metal, a track that takes you on an instrumental journey, a sonic sojourn. So many interesting things are going on here in "Ghosts..." that it feels like it should be longer than its 10-plus minutes; I don't mean it feels overlong and tries to do too much. No, no; there's no excess, no bloated soloing, it is tight and compact; I just mean... like a dream that seems like it goes on for hours, but you wake to find five minutes passed...

To get to the album's softest moment, you listen all the way through - and that is more than mere suggestion - to the instrumental closer "Theories Of Flight," a coda to the rest of the album, as it harks back to the more lyrical elements already heard.

Theories Of Flight is a well-paced album; the shifting dynamics keep things interesting; even with steely guitar phrases and yearning-for-something lyrics, there is a lot of warmth to it (I'd cite mostly Alder vocals). It is a mature album with a little something for the hard rock, progressive rock and progressive metal audiences that won't leave you scratching your head.

The limited edition version contains a second CD with acoustic tracks, including an acoustic take on "Seven Stars," which loses nothing in a sparser setting but for the "radio friendliness" aspect. The other 5 tracks rendered in acoustic form are "Firefly" (from Darkness...), "Another Perfect Day" (from FWX), "Pray Your Gods" (a Toad The Wet Sprocket cover), "Adela" (a Joaquin Rodrigo cover) and "Rain" (a Uriah Heep cover).* Acoustic tracks are almost inherently intimate and that's the case here; they are warm, and finds both Matheos' guitar and Alder's vocals in fine form.

*credit to Encyclopedia Metallum (The Metal Archives) from whom I learned by whom the latter three acoustic tracks were (though there are composer and copyright credits in the booklet...)

From The Rooftops (6:52) / Seven Stars (5:33) / SOS (4:34) / The Light And Shade Of Things (10:14) / White Flag (5:20) / Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen (5:13) / The Ghosts Of Home (10:31) / Theories Of Flight (4:00)

Bonus Disc: Firefly (acoustic) (3:15) / Seven Stars (4:25) / Another Perfect Day (3:25) / Pray Your Gods (3:45) / Adela (2:25) / Rain (4:03)

Ray Alder - vocals
Jim Matheos - guitars
Joey Vera - bass, backing vocals
Bobby Jarzombek - drums

Frank Aresti - guitar solo (1, 5)
Mike Abdow - guitar solo (5)

Night On Brocken (1984)
The Spectre Within (1985)
Awaken The Guardian (1986)
No Exit (1988)
Perfect Symmetry (1989)
Parallels (1991)
Inside Out (1994)
Chasing Time (1995)
A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (1997)
Still Life (1998)
Disconnected (2000)
FW:X (2004)
Darkness In A Different Light (2013)
Theories Of Flight (2016)
Awaken The Guardian Live (2017)

Live At The Dynamo (DVD) (2000)
The View From Here (DVD) (2003)
Live In Athens (DVD) (2005)
Awaken The Guardian Live (BR) (2017)

Genre: Progressive Metal

Origin US

Added: June 17th 2017
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.fateswarning.com
Hits: 4053
Language: english


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