In many art forms maturity is a beneficial element to achieve; inspiration tempered by experience, knowledge and the passage of time. In rock music it’s often viewed as a detriment and this is even more pronounced in heavy metal circles.
Look up comments on any heavy metal band that has been out for 25 years or longer and you’re invariably going to find a contingent of very vocal fans screaming for the past to return. In many cases it is a valid response. Many bands lose the initial spark that attracted their audiences in the first place. Most commonly they fall into one of several traps; retreading their steps, chasing trends they are ill-suited for, watering themselves down till they are unrecognizable, or possibly they just lose their inspiration and spend the twilight years of their careers on auto-pilot. This is not always the case however, there are rare exceptions, bands that use maturity in their favor and continue to develop, refine and enhance their sound. Happily, Fates Warning is one of them.
‘Theories of Flight’ is the 12th album in Fates Warning’s 32-year professional career and they’ve come a long way from their original NWOBHM-inspired roots. Guitarist Jim Matheos has been the primary writer since their inception and has directed them through a variety of stylistic and lineup changes over the years. Vocalist Ray Alder joined in 1988 for the transitional album ‘No Exit’, the bridge between the more metallic earlier albums and the more melodic, progressive direction they would follow afterward. The top-notch rhythm section consists of bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint), who has worked with the band since 1997 and journeyman drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Riot, Iced Earth).
Long-time second guitarist Frank Aresti also makes a guest appearance providing inspired solos on the songs From The Rooftops and White Flag. Together they’ve crafted one of the most impressive albums of their career, which is something I rarely find myself saying about bands that have been around for several decades. After their inspired return with 2013’s ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ (which followed a 9-year hiatus from recording), the expectations were high and they’ve surpassed them.
‘Theories of Flight’ is one of the most deftly balanced mainstream Prog Metal albums I’ve heard in many a moon. The songs are impressively technical arrangements without ever devolving into fireworks displays of dexterity. They have the prerequisite metallic crunch but it doesn’t overpower the melodic drive at the core or fall back on overused clichés. And the songwriting is passionate without ever becoming maudlin. This is a deceptively difficult achievement, as evidenced by the many examples I hear on a yearly basis of bands not getting it right. Again, maturity comes to the fore.
‘Theories of Flight’ goes down smoothly. The pacing and flow are perfectly sequenced to give that “album” experience, one where the sum total is greater than the individual elements. It’s a fine collection of songs and even though it’s not technically a concept album there are some unifying themes that reoccur throughout. It’s also one of their best-sounding albums from a production standpoint; Jens Bogren (Haken, Opeth) did the excellent, finely detailed mix, which really envelops the listener and enhances the dynamic power of the arrangements. I believe it’s the type of album that could easily appeal to listeners outside the usual progressive metal circles, it’s accessibility and focus on melody should entice the fans of groups like Mystery or Porcupine Tree.
Their older fans should be pleased as well because they don’t skimp on the heavier elements. Tracks like the aggressive opener From The Rooftops, Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen and the driving, anthemic White Flag display an intensity rarely seen since their 80s era. The song Seven Stars also harkens back to the mid-period Parallels era.
I also have to tip my hat to vocalist Ray Alder at this point. His performance is the glue that binds this entire album together. When he first joined the band back in the 80s he had a tendency to push into the higher registers quite frequently (it goes with the metal territory) but over the years he’s mellowed his approach and now uses his considerable skill much more effectively. He is most impressively featured on the two epic tracks that are the real emotional center of the album; The Light And Shade of Things and the evocative The Ghosts of Home.
Fates Warning has been playing progressive metal since before the term existed. They have remained true to themselves and their fans throughout all the trends and upheaval in the music industry for the past 30 years. They have earned our respect. They have also continued to evolve and I believe are deserving of an even wider audience, they’ve delivered an excellent work in ‘Theories of Flight’, now all you have to do is listen.
Released 1st July 2016
Order direct from the band at the link below: