July 11, 2016 Fates Warning – Theories of Flight (Album Review)
Having formed in 1982, in Connecticut, United States, Fates Warning belongs to the second wave (mid-’70s to mid-’80s) of bands in the history of Metal. Its music is rooted in Power/Progressive Metal and, based on the sonic traits of its early albums, the band was most likely influenced by pioneering developers of the genre such as Judas Priest (“Run of the Mill”), Rainbow (“Stargazer”), Saxon (“Militia Guard”), and Iron Maiden (“Phantom of the Opera”). This type of Metal may be best characterized by speed instead of heaviness, sharpness rather than dissonance, Fantasy-based lyricism over machoistic exhibitionism, and high-pitched operatic vocal styling instead of the guttural howls and deathly grunts.
Furthermore, its musicality is based primarily on Classical’s symphonic aspect and only sporadically on Blues Rock’s twangs. Although, of course, in the long run, many bands have begun to cross-pollinate these sonic characteristics and inadvertently come up with hybrid subgenres of Metal music. Fates Warning is a prime example of this cross-pollination. Currently consisting of founding member Jim Matheos (guitar) and Frank Aresti (guitar), Ray Alder (vocals), Joey Vera (bass), and Bobby Jarzombek (drums), the enduring and prolific American band has twelve studio albums to its name’s credit – from 1984’s Night on Bröcken to this year’s Theories of Flight.
Released on July 1, 2016, Fates Warning’s twelfth oeuvre opens initially slowly with the balladic Classical/Glam Metal intro of “From the Rooftops” only to detonate into metallic shards of Thrash sensibilities. Following is the groovy “Seven Stars,” whose galloping rhythm and synth-drenched backing tracks make it catchy and engaging. The driving beat carries over to the hard-edged “SOS,” whose choppy power strums, angular guitar interludes, punchy beats, and powerful vocals may recall early Soundgarden (“Outshined”), Pearl Jam (“Animal”), Godsmack (“Awake”), and Shinedown (“Fly from the Inside”) sans the customary Grunge growls. And then there is the sinister and mystifying ambience of the album’s ten-minute epic, “The Light and Shade of Things,” which is founded on a mélange of harmonics and Folk-inspired plucked-guitar playing and syncopated marching drumbeats, building up into Power Thrash chords and intermittent double blast beats, and then ending as a typical vocal-harmonized Power ballad.
“White Flag” returns the mood to Thrash angularity, where the cascading basslines begin to make its presence felt amidst the calculated strums and multilayers of piercing guitar ad-libs. The ensuing track, “Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen,” ups the ante with its doubled-up speed and relentless attack on the strings and fretboard; plus points for the impressive left-to-right panning employed effectively in the middle part of the song. The album’s other ten-minute track, “The Ghosts of Home” is another spectacle of Power/Glam Metal balladry. It will fit well on a playlist that includes Dream Theater’s “Pull Me Under,” Savatage’s “All That I Bleed,” and Blind Guardian’s “And Then There Was Silence.” Finally, Theories of Flight closes with its cinematic, semi-instrumental title track, which stands out with its unexpected 6/8-timed syncopation midway to the end of the song and the album itself. It also harks to the same progressive style the band employed in its debut, released 32 years ago, particularly in the album’s “Damnation,” completing an aesthetic circle.
True to the experimental and sonically inclusive aspect of Progressive Metal, Fates Warning is able to maintain its musical roots without shying away from the inevitable impact of other hard and heavy genres of Rock, which the band was able to incorporate into its continuously evolving music. CrypticRock gives Theories of Flight 4 out of 5 stars.