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A gem in a time of musical garbage. - 86%

hells_unicorn, March 1st, 2008

1994 was a time of reckoning for the musical mainstream, their unwilling icon had committed suicide, and most of the other various musical acts categorized as hard hitting were beginning to lose credibility. It was also the year in which several 80s acts had their line-ups splinter and the metal scene was fully obsessed with the dry and uninspired thrash scene spearheaded by the likes of Pantera and Sepultura. Though not fully oblivious to the effects of a changing scene, Fates Warning releases their slightly darker, yet near equally accessible follow-up to Parallels. In some ways the band has expanded their sound, but in others we see the same formula at work that made this album’s predecessor the success that it was. And thankfully, there was still an audience for this kind of music, which sadly couldn’t be said for the more melodic metal bands of the traditional scene.

If there is one weakness in this album, it is that they went a tiny bit overboard in the ballad department. Although a bit more upbeat of a closer, “Afterglow” comes on the heels of the most riveting song on the album. “Shelter Me” and “Island in the Stream” also fall into the ballad department, and both contain elements of the catchy chorus and straight-forward approach that made “We only say Goodbye” it’s success. “The Strand” is probably the most non-metal track on the album, at times almost sounding like a Soundgarden/Alice in Chains version of a quiet to loud song, though structure-wise it is far more ambitious than anything those bands ever would have dreamed of. “Inward Bound” is a rather somber and quiet instrumental with a simple melodic guitar theme, it pretty much functions as a lead in to “Monument”.

Songs such as “Pale Fire” and “Down to the Wire” are more down tempo heavy tracks with a good mix of catchy hooks and musical intrigue, particularly in the drums. “Face the Fear” and “Outside Looking In” are more reminiscent of older Fates Warning, containing some solid guitar riffs, plenty of rhythmic twists, and a more non-conventional approach to song structure. But the highlight of the album is the magnum opus “Monument”, which features the talents of all the band. We have a rather technically impressive electric guitar solo, followed by an equally complex Spanish guitar solo. We also get a healthy set of complex bass and drum lines, in addition to the constant references to the 7/8 time signature, a trait found in older and more progressive Fates Warning tracks.

This album is heavily geared towards a more mainstream audience, perhaps even more so than “Parallels”, but is still something that can be enjoyed by the intellectually savvy members of the Prog. Scene. It has a bit more flash and flair to it’s lead guitar work than the last album did, which will appeal to fans of more traditional metal. Jim Matheos was once quoted as saying that he was disappointed with the final product when it came to this release because it was too similar to the previous one. While there are many similarities, this reveals that this band felt a great deal of pressure in order to keep their sound varied, and I think that when you compare this album to “Parallels” you will note enough differences between them to make you wonder if all that added pressure is really necessary.

Basically this is another solid release by Fates Warning, in a time where just about every other crevice of heavy music was suffering a fairly massive recession. Sadly, this would be the last album with bassist/co-founder Joe Dibiase, and the result was a release after this one that was so removed from anything Fates Warning had done before, that you would have thought a different band recorded it. I prefer the band with him in it, but they’ve still got a good amount going for them, as they push the boundaries of the metal genre. This album comes highly recommended.