Fates Warning - A Pleasant Shade Of Gray

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Metal Blade
Catalog Number: 3984-14129-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 49:34:00

Not really knowing much about Fates Warning except the positive reviews this particular album had received, I chanced to pick it up a few weeks ago, and have liked it from the get-go. For those unfamiliar, the music is in the same vein as Dream Theater and Queensryche ... well, classic Queensryche ... (though the band itself pre-dates DT and is contemporary to QR). Melodic progressive metal that deals with "down to earth" themes -- in other words, not the heroic fantasy of Rhapsody, say. The theme on this, which is most assuredly a concept album, is rather dreary ... well, how could it not be with the title A Pleasant Shade Of Gray? The theme is simple in that here we have a man contemplating his life, thinking of his regrets about the past - all those things we woulda, we shoulda, we didn't do?or shouldna have done, but did. It's funny how overcast and rainy days will make you contemplative. At least it makes me contemplative. I can recall spending hours at my dorm room window, watching the rain fall into the swimming pool below... contemplating the meaning of my life and where it was going.

There is something, however, quite refreshing about smelling the world after a fresh rain (at least outside of the city); the smell of wet grass, wet dirt, and warm, moist pavement (if in the summer). So, in the end, perhaps this album is not so much dreary but rather hopeful. You might say every gray cloud has a silver lining... or in other words, seeing the positive side of a negative situation. Ergo, A Pleasant Shade of Gray.

The album begins with a lone guitar plucking out notes while dark thunder rumbles in the background (rather like Pink Floyd in many respects)? but soon keys join in, courtesy of Kevin Moore. The next to come into the mix fully (other than a few loud crashes up to this point) is Ray Alder's vocals, which sets the theme. "Part II" is next, naturally. This track has the most memorable refrain in the chorus, is somewhat industrial in the sharp sighing of the percussion (Mark Zonder), the fuzzed vocals of Alder, and the sparse arrangement.

"Part III" features Jim Matheos' guitars up front in mid-tempo grind, and except for the gray lyrics, could easily be a sultry blues number?a little too sharp at the edges for that exactly, but it has that kind of rhythm.

By "Part V" and "Part VI" I am brought to mind of Marillion, and especially their Brave album. Although hearing it you wouldn't say they sound like Marillion, per se. There are similar dynamics employed... percolating atmospherics that slowly rise up to epic, soaring guitar leads. Marillion aren't alone in this, but the whole tenor of it is like that on Brave. Matheos' style is different from Rothery's, different colourings and ... ahem shades. This similarity wasn't something I noticed right away, but only now, as I'm writing this review. All of which tells you, as it tells me, there's much to discover about the album that a first listen won't reveal. And, for me, the Marillion comparison is meant positively. I mean it as good thing.

I love Moore's keys that open "Part VII" though I thought of Dream Theater more on "Part III" than here. Here the band chugs along in a Queensryche kinda groove ... maybe more latter day 'ryche (prior to Hear In The Now Frontier though). And, his piano playing at the end of "Part VIII" is quite beautiful. I must tell you that I have heard people rave about Ray Alder's voice, and it no hyperbole - a bit of James LaBrie here and there, though he doesn't try to reach the rafters with his voice - it a very nice to listen to, even when the fuzzed effects are applied to it. "Part IX" is the ballad, and while it is some respects rather routine - when you think prog metal ballad, this is what you think of... that slow build up to another soaring guitar solo, but it sounds so great, fits in with whole suite, that you don't mind. And the sentiments expressed are just this side of sappy. I also want to mention that Matheos is a great lyricist. He doesn't have an overwrought poetic style, as he can get an idea across without use of flowery words, but he does paint rather vivid pictures. He's a writer that expects you to bring a little of yourself into the music - "you've been there, you've done that, so you know what I'm getting at..." For example; here in "Part IX" he writes/Alder sings:

Stayed up late last night Lying there in bed Still looking for words Still writing letters in my head

Oh, goodness, yes, I've been there...

I really enjoy listening to this disc and recommend it - it contains all those things that I look for in music: melodicism, strong lyrical ideas, good performance, warmth... yes, there's warmth here despite the chilly nature of the theme... soaring guitars, lyrical keys?

Now, I know from having read in Progression (issue 27) that Fates Warning haven't always been like this, that over the years their style has gone from progressive metal to metal and back, this being part of the back. And there is a new disk in offing quite soon; perhaps out by the time you read this. In the meantime, you should seek this out.

Part I (1:53) / Part II (3:25) / Part III (3:53) / Part IV (4:26) / Part V (5:24) / Part VI (7:28) / Part VII (4:51) / Part VIII (3:31) / Part IX (4:45) / Part X (1:19) / Part XI (3:34) / Part XII (7:45)

Ray Alder - vocals
Jim Matheos - guitars and guitar synth
Mark Zonder - drums
Joey Vera - bass
Kevin Moore - piano and keyboards

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-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: June 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.fateswarning.com
Hits: 1942
Language: english


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