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No Exit has to be one of my favorite albums of all time. For the life of me, I cannot understand why this album does not get more praise. To some, the departure of Arch was a razor slicing across the throat of the band, but I prefer to look at it as a new beginning. One cannot deny the quality of the Arch years, but a major facet of the band did improve from the time Awaken the Guardian was released, till this monumental classic arrived-the riffs!
The album begins with an eerie introduction. Alder is in top form with his vocal work (though I wouldn't say he is better than Arch). "Anarchy Divine" kicks the album into full gear, and wow what a riff! Immediately, it becomes apparent where the band has evolved. Thrash effortlessly blends with the band's former prog grace to create perhaps the greatest opening track of all time.
No Exit takes us on a journey through technicality and melody. Each time the band slows down the pace to create atmosphere, it is followed by another onslaught of metal nirvana. The closing track is a combination of shorter tracks, strung together into one final epilogue. Song length has no meaning in the world of No Exit, for the final tune never gets boring in the slightest.
It took me a few listens to get used to Alder's voice. His vocal lines are not as complex as Arch's, nor are they quite as original in delivery. Instead, Alder takes the role of insane metal screamer, mixed with soothing melodies that would calm a rabid crocodile. The razor sharp guitar playing is complemented by tasteful solos. Drumming is handled in a slightly more conventional manner, though a few odd drum patterns do emerge. Furthermore, I would consider No Exit to be one of the best produced albums of all time, completely capturing the classic metal sound.
I would highly recommend this album, but I would highly recommend their earlier albums as well. I suppose it's just a matter of taste.
Enter, young man! Fates Warning said to Ray Alder once he got into the band in 1987. John Arch had left, Jim Matheos took over the lyrical writing and little Ray got to be the vocalist of the band he was a big fan of. The result of it all: No Exit
Stylistically No Exit is an album that definitely stands on its own. It’s clearly more accessible and superficial than Awaken the Guardian, which absorbed your spirit into a realm of fantasy and imagination, yet also far heavier and more riff-driven than the mechanical, progressive Perfect Symmetry
Obviously Ray Alder gives No Exit a different vibe as well. Now, I like some of his performances such as on Perfect Symmetry and Parallels but here the guy still sounds young and slightly inexperienced. He’s got plenty of high notes to fire off but in the end they just don’t sound as effective as they should be. Now this isn’t always a problem during the more riff-oriented tracks where Ray’s enthusiastically shrieking and the guitars are the main focus of the tunes but when the guy’s required to deliver some soulful softer vocal lines he’s just not delivering the goods.
‘’Anarchy Divine’’ kicks the album off in seriously high gear with simplistic yet rapid fire riffing showing up. Both Jim and Frank pull off some excellent wailing leads before Ray opens his mouth. ‘’Shades of Heavenly Death’’ is another excellent tune that goes through some tempo and mood changes here and there while still focusing on demanding riffs screaming for your attention. These tunes are easily the best on No Exit because they’re the most riff-oriented ones on the album.
But here’s the issue: Fates Warning don’t just keep throwing in-your-face riffs at you all the time. ‘’Silent Cries’’ switches between excellent driving riffs and softer sections but once Ray starts to sing during the latter my attention just starts to wander already. ‘’In a World’’ feature more acoustic guitar sections that bring to mind the same tranquil autumn-like mood of Perfect Symmetry but again Ray’s rather ‘’empty’’ vocal lines come off dull.
The ‘big epic’ comes at last. It’s got everything you’d heard on the previous tracks basically: cute acoustic passages, an artillery of riffs and Ray switching between soft and shriek mode. Now there’s one big issue with the track: lack of structure. Some individual parts sound rather good, sure, but just when the next one starts I’m not following anymore. Did these guys really think it was good to put them together in that way? It’s like trying to solve a big puzzle by putting all the pieces completely together in a random fashion and then claiming you’ve solved it. ‘’The Ivory Gate of Dreams’’ does one thing well: it makes me day dream that No Exit was full of thrash-y tunes instead of this stuff. Hey, that’s some sort of accomplishment!
No Exit is a missed opportunity. While still sounding far better and more fun than anything Fates Warning did in the 90’s and onward, this is just too average sounding for what Fates Warning could deliver in the 80’s. Verdict: either go back one or two steps back or one step forward if you want to hear better quality albums.
There seem to be two camps when it comes to Fates Warning. There is the camp that absolutely worships original vocalist John Arch and there is the (much smaller) camp that prefers current vocalist Ray Alder. I'm actually part of the Alder camp. I do believe that John Arch was a great metal vocalist for his time and, unlike Ray Alder, he has succeeded in keeping his voice in tip top shape. However, there was something about his voice that just didn't connect with me and I feel that Ray Alder had a much better tone. No Exit is the first album with Ray Alder and I feel that this album is the peak of the band's career both in songwriting and in execution.
No Exit was my first exposure to the band so maybe that is where my bias comes into play. Any metal head who is around my age will remember seeing "Silent Cries" on Headbanger's Ball and that is where I first heard the band. I'm not sure why I hadn't heard of them prior to this album since they had three other albums on Metal Blade before No Exit, but nonetheless I hadn't. When I heard the song I immediately purchased the album and I about wore the grooves off of it. After that I looked into the band's past and did not believe then nor do I believe now that Fates Warning has put out a better album.
After a brief intro song (which is the title track) we go right into "Anarchy Divine." Straight out of the shoot this song just reeks power and top notch musicianship. The riffs range from pure thrash to driving power metal. The solos are skilled and classy. Ray Alder wastes no time showing his vocal range with some of the best vocals to ever grace metal music. The remainder of the first half of the album is more of the same with songs that show how the band can go from pure thrash riffs to a more prog/power sound. Songs like the aforementioned "Silent Cries" and the thrashier "Shades of Heavenly Death" are full of pure power. "In a Word" is between the two and a bit slower but no less powerful.
The second half of the album is the monumental song "The Ivory Gate of Dreams" that clocks in just under 22:00 and is in eight parts. There are beginning and ending acoustic parts that segue into parts II through VII which are absolutely brilliant. This is one of the best metal songs ever made. There are those who criticize this album for all kinds of reasons from...from it's lack of direction and melody to just the fact that it's not John Arch. If you go into this album with blinders on, you are denying yourself a quality slice of classic U.S. prog/power metal. This album is essential.
To many Fates Warning fans, 'No Exit' is significant only because it holds the dubious honor of being Ray Alder's debut with the band. I say 'dubious' not because Ray is anywhere near a poor singer (quite the contrary), but because his entry signaled a shift away from the fantastical lyrical themes and mystical songwriting sensibilities that characterized the John Arch era, to the strange dichotomy of mechanical-yet-emotionally-charged progressive metal that became the band's calling card (at least until 1997's 'A Pleasant Shade of Grey'). But is this transition as bad as it's made out to be? I think not.
In 1988, Ray Alder was a singer with a strong set of pipes and an impressive range, and while he wasn't able to pull off the twisting melodies of his predecessor, he was more than up to the task of delivering the band's newfound introspective and dreamy lyrics. Indeed, he attacks this material like he's got something to prove, effortlessly wailing his way through 'Anarchy Divine', 'Shades of Heavenly Death', and nailing that amazingly climactic Ab5 in 'The Ivory Gate of Dreams, Pt. 4: Quietus'. (As far as I know, he never hit that note again.) During the album's quieter moments, such as 'Silent Cries', 'In a Word', and parts of 'The Ivory Gate of Dreams', he sings with subtlety and restraint, letting the words breathe and speak to the listener. If you ask me, 'No Exit' is Mr. Alder's finest vocal performance to date.
The guitar duo of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti returns from 'Awaken the Guardian', and they deliver the thrashiest and heaviest riffs of Fates Warning's career. 'Anarchy Divine' stomps its way out of the gate with a fist-pumping riff that's made even cooler through the use of an odd time signature, and then with the entrance of a blistering guitar solo, we're off! There's some vitriol in this album that's well-served by its increased aggression, but this is also where the melancholy of Fates Warning started. The music at whiles surges with rage or ebbs with reflection, always responding to the needs of the message. The classical guitar break in 'Shades of Heavenly Death', in particular, is awe-inspiring; it's the eye of the storm.
Steve Zimmerman and Joe DiBiase hold down the rhythm section admirably, with neither drawing undue attention to himself. I really enjoy how Steve's drumming serves the song rather than shows off. He provides a really solid, heavy foundation upon which the guitars and vocals can build their ivory towers. (See what I did there?) Joe's bass is audible and gets the job done, which is usually about the most you can say for a metal album.
The centerpiece of the album is the epic 'The Ivory Gate of Dreams'. Progressive metal bands often get lost in their own ambition, but Fates Warning happily avoided that pitfall by dividing the song into eight mini-songs, each with their own recognizable structure, but all undeniably and seamlessly part of the whole. Recurring motifs help to tie the piece together and make it flow, so that despite its 20-minute length, it always returns to a central point. In short, this is a clinic on how to write a long song without losing the listener's attention. A masterpiece.
Well, Fates Warning never sounded like this again. Subsequent albums would be more progressive, less heavy, and more streamlined. I, for one, am glad that we got this transitional album that inhabited the twilight realm between the mystical world of the old Fates and the mundane world of the new. I only hope that more people will look upon 'No Exit' more kindly in years to come.
It goes without saying that "No Exit" is a very important album in Fates Warning's catalogue. Whether you like it or not, it laid down the groundwork for what would become the rest of the band's career and yet it is at the same very distinct from everything both before and after. It's probably their heaviest album, and the first in which Frank Aresti REALLY got to flex his guitar soloing muscles and the first when Matheos proved he could write lyrics that rivaled the genius of Arch.
I've seen a lot of negativity directed towards this album and it always puzzles me, as it's the only Alder album to maintain some kind of noticeable musical relation to the work that came prior to it. Granted, it doesn't really sound very much like the Arch era (the prominent power metal elements of that period are only hinted at here) but it's still got elements of that, and yet it still manages to be it's own unique being. The songwriting here is fantastic, with Jim doing the majority of it and continuing to astound all with the intricacies and subtleties he puts forth. Being as this IS essentially their heaviest, and thrashiest album it becomes more difficult to be subtle but the band manages to successfully combine overt heaviness with the band's signature explorations. I don't have too many criticisms for "No Exit" except that I simply don't like it quite as much as other albums, but it's still one I frequently play and enjoy.
There's basically two sides to this album. One is the band pushing themselves to their limits in aggression and heaviness, with Steve Zimmerman putting forth what is perhaps his best performance and the guitar team of Jim and Frank slashing out chugging rhythms and ripping yet melodic solos. This aspect of the album is what makes it stand out in comparison to the other albums they have done, as other than the soloing none of these elements would be heard afterwards. Ray Alder's shrieking vocals and unusual vocal melodies are very atypical for him as he would never be such a screamer after this. I've heard people refer to his vocals on this album as "uncontrolled", "undisciplined", and "all over the place" which is somewhat true occasionally but this is greatly exaggerated by most people (more on that later).
The other side of the album is the progressive and melodic side. On tracks like "In A Word" and "Silent Cries" you can hear the building blocks for what would become "Perfect Symmetry", and Ray's vocals are absolutely beautiful in these songs. There is a much larger amount of odd meters and rhythmic exploration to be found on this album, which helps add to the progressive feel of the record.
The best thing about Fates Warning in their "metal" era (which pretty much ended with this album) is that the heaviness only served to support the emotional and lyrical content of the song. There's no section that feels like it was thrown in to serve as a "headbanging" section even though there are plenty of headbangable moments to be found. Everything is put there to reflect the anguish and frustration the lyrics represent, and it is all put together beautifully.
A good example of this is on the song "Shades of Heavenly Death". Easily the overall heaviest song the band did, with thrash sections galore and a rather doomy riff to be found midway through but it never seems phoned in. The lyrics reflect a myriad of emotions from fear, frustration, betrayal, to it's general theme of being lied to and manipulated by either the system or life in general. The music supports this tenfold with it's haunting, yet aggressive feel topped off with one of the best solos (Jim's solo) on any Fates Warning song it is sure to be a highlight. It's not just put there to be a very heavy song, it simply IS a very heavy song.
I was mentioning before about the unjust criticisms of Ray Alder's performance here. I often find myself preferring his voice to Arch (which is saying something as I love Arch to no end), and his clean, operatic vocal sections are impeccably executed. The intro to the Aresti penned "In A Word" is very reflective sounding, which would go on to become the band's signature of their prog era, and his vibrato and tone is fantastic. This is the case for all the cleaner vocal sections on the album, of which I have no criticism. I will however admit that there are moments when he's belting out his (in)famous screams during the heavy sections that there are times they sound a tad out of control. It works quite good on the aforementioned "Shades of Heavenly Death" and on the legendary "Ivory Gate of Dreams", but there are a few moments on "Anarchy Divine" when he doesn't quite pull off what he's going for. He would mature as a singer on the next album, delivering the performance of a lifetime but he is still quite good here.
One thing I notice not too many people talk about when discussing Fates Warning is just how mind boggling the musicianship is. This is probably because they are such a song oriented band, and the focus is never on technique but the way they integrate such precise playing into such emotionally charged music has never been bettered (though it has been equaled by other fantastic bands such as Shadow Gallery). Steve Zimmerman, while no Mark Zondor (who is possibly my favorite progressive metal drummer) is on fire here, with his remarkable control of shifting meters while still providing classic fills. He's definitely one of those guys who plays drums like you would sing them. That is, with plenty of personality and exuberance but yet he also has a remarkable technical command of the instrument. Joe DiBiase on bass is often overlooked, but he always complements the riffs in great ways and usually tries to not directly copy the guitar which provides for a more interesting listen.
And then of course you have the guitar team of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti. These guys are cruelly overlooked and no matter how much I try to sell to people just how virtuosic and great these guys are, they only sometimes get it. This is again because they only play what fits the song, but they do so without sounding locked in or limited. Aresti's the shredhead out of the two, with his solo in the "Ivory Tower" part of the closing track being a highlight in all it's alternate picked, string jumping glory whereas Jim Matheos is more subdued. He's still capable of technically demanding lead sections, but it's his beautiful tone and the remarkable melodic control of his leads that stand out about him to me. I also personally feel he is one of the greatest songwriters to ever live.
Everything I've mentioned in this review comes together as a whole on "The Ivory Gate of Dreams". Every section captures your attention, and the use of themes and dynamics gives it a bit of a classical feel which is always appreciated. Throughout these 21 minutes you truly experience the story, whether you are paying attention to the lyrics or not, and no matter how many times I listen to it I discover another dimension or element to it I didn't notice before. "Quietus" is the most well known section in it, as it's very catchy and soulful but no one part outdoes the rest. This is one of Fates' best songs (which is saying quite a lot), and though I don't hold it quite as high as a few others, it is nevertheless an astonishing achievement.
"No Exit" as whole is truly a great album. It balances all the elements Fates Warning are known for both of the Arch era and the Alder era, but manages to put it together with the best set of riffs they ever did, and some great songs. I wish people would get over the changes that occured here, because otherwise they are missing out on some great music. It may not be the milestone "Awaken the Guardian" or "Perfect Symmetry"(amongst others) are, but it's still fantastic.
'No Exit' is an album that truly made me suffer. This is probably their most incoherent, pretentious and forgettable album to date. 'Ray Alder' appears to be a decent replacement for 'John Arch', they got the same operatic vocal tone and a high range...but that's the only decent thing going in this lifeless record. This album is an overlong weave of generic power chord transitions that goes nowhere alongside the eerie droning vocal melodies for a despairing length of 40 minutes.
We start with the title track which is a silly interlude that sums up the whole idea of this blunt album very concisely: Nothing. Except for the pretentious try at composing progressive track (a.k.a 'The Ivory Gate Of Boredom'), there is absolutely nothing going in this album but dumb guitar riffs and dull vocal melodies. It seems like Jim Matheos couldn't write a memorable riff even if his life were depend on it. 'Anarchy Divine' sound like an error. Too many riffs that are just simply boring and has no value. They are just there supporting the meandering vocal lines that searches so bad for a catchy theme to rely on and fail. The next trio of tracks is exactly the same: riffs without edge and vocal lines without any catchy moments that create a dumb musical vacuum.
Finally, we reach the magnum opus of this horrifying album: 'The Ivory Gate Of Boredom'. In this overlong and insufferable lengthy 22 minutes track, 'Fates Warning' embarrass themselves while trying to compose a progressive epic such as Rush's 2112. They probably didn't received the memo that progressive music doesn't mean predictable and repetitive transitions between clean and distorted guitars through monotonous riffage and artificial acoustic interludes, because this is what this absurdly stretched filler is.
Accidents happen, 'No Exit' is a good way of proving that. This whole album is a big accident. 'No Exit' is an awkward shitload of interchangeable riffs that goes nowhere. This is probably one of the most boring albums I've heard and considering the fact that Metallica released '...And Justice for All' in that same year and managed to accomplish what this album failed to do (progressive thrash album), it's also a futile one.
Save for the twenty one minute long 'Ivory Gate of Dreams,' there isn't too much of a progressive theme to be found on this album. There is certainly some progressiveness to the other songs, but that's the song that gives this release such a ground breaking element to it. Until then, there really wasn't too much of a progressive metal scene going on. Having a song cycle of such epic proportions thrown into a genre that was generally (at the time) about drinking, women and drugs was quite a shock to the system.
However, everything considered, I'm still not a big Fates Warning fan. I find Ray Alder is a technically accomplished vocalist, but I simply don't like his voice all too much. This might be however, a result of my other major problem with the band; their lack of attention to actual melody. The vocal melodies on this album (and alot of Fates Warning's other work) seem like they were just put in for the sake of having a singer. Some of the acoustic parts of 'The Ivory Gate of Dreams' however offer an exception to this, which is always a refreshing change to listen to.
The aforementioned epic is a real journey through many different emotions; melancholy through rage. It's very surreal and while I didn't really think it worked especially well altogether on my first few listens, months after buying, I realized that there are so many recurring themes that weave their way through the music that make it a sort of song cycle you have to listen to from start-to-finish to really get a kick out of it.
The other tracks on the album range from very good to mediocre. The epynomous intro to the album segues into the most memorable 'single' track on the album, 'Anarchy Divine,' with some absolutely amazing guitar solos. 'Silent Cries' doesn't do much for me, but the other two songs have some very cool moments, especially the fifth track before the epic begins, 'Shades Of Heavenly Death.'
This album would probably interest metal fans more than actual prog fans, but seeing as I am both, it's definately not a poor addition to my collection. While I would certainly not compare it to the stands of Dream Theaters 'Scenes From A Memory' or Symphony X's 'New Mythology Suite,' it's definately a good listen. Think an American, more progressive version of Iron Maiden.
We could lament the loss of our beloved John Arch, or the fanciful forays of Fates Warning into and beyond the realm of imagination, but we simply could not fight the future, and some credit must be given to the band for choosing an excellent replacement in Ray Alder. On the surface, he's another shrieker without much of a difference, and with No Exit, he gives his most out of control effort, which truly coincides with the music. This album is the big 'transition' between the fantasy speed and power metal of the first three efforts, and the more mechanical, prog-metal lite that would follow through the 90s. But you wouldn't know that from the starting gate, because this one opens with a serious BANG...
And that cannon is "Anarchy Divine", the first single and video for the album, which promptly tears your fucking face off after the bizarre vocal/acoustic intro "No Exit" with electrics fizzing off into the background. Perhaps the heaviest track of Fates Warning's career, "Anarchy Divine" opens with a deep, punishing rhythm that accumulates scintillating melodies until the first, brilliant lead break before the minute mark, and then comes the setup for the verse...a steady thrash riff that should have your fists flying into your neighbors face, or there is simply no justice in the world. Alder returns over this verse, like an irate banshee with something to prove, and lyrics of far more...well, relevance than we're used to from this band. John who? The leads continue to impress here (Matheos and his partners have the fortunate tendency to almost never throw a bum lead into a song). This track is a bold and bright step for the band, and immediately solicited a forgiveness for the shift in singers.
"Silent Cries" enters with yet another barrage of guitars, but quickly transforms into an uptempo bass line sprinkle in acoustics and precise, flowing thrash rhythms while Alder really shows you his range, a roller coaster of mid-octave honesty and heavenly shrieking that could probably effectively communicate with a bird of prey. Personally I just love how the choppy tech-thrash rhythm winds below his siren calling. "In a Word" stretches further into ballad-hood, but Alder's 'arching' melodies cast their shadows well into the surge of chords, which in turn herald some of his most penetrating vocals on the entire album. A balance of subtlety and intensity, like the Fates in a drunken game over some poor sod's life-thread. "Shades of Heavenly Death" marks the last of the regular length tracks on the album, a brooding crusher with more piercing cries that explores interesting territory, with a huge doom riff popping up later in the track before a tranquil, haunting acoustic sequence.
Fates Warning took a risk with the rest of this album, but one that largely paid off. "The Ivory Gate of Dreams" is a nearly 22-minute track comprised of 8 'movements', a symphony of weighted acoustic clemency and powerful showstopping metal riffs that is almost entirely engrossing. In particular, I am quite fond of the "Daylight Dreamers" metal sequence with its frightening, shrill vocal patterns, and ditto for "Ivory Tower". "Acquiescence" sends us off to the outro with a wild, struggling abandon and more of Alder's stratospheric presence. As a single, epic length track, "The Ivory Gate of Dreams" is more hit than miss, though it does seem to follow the tedious pattern of acoustic to metal to acoustic to metal which does effect some predictability on the listener (bands like Dream Theater and Edge of Sanity would unfortunately continue this trend, to a degree).
No Exit is good. No, great, but it does have a few points which mark it as less remarkable than its predecessors. For one, I don't exactly love the production here, but it's not a far cry from Awaken the Guardian. It's simply a matter of the band using crunchier low end guitar rhythms, which balanced with the ripping leads almost lend too much power to Alder's tongue in the mix. As for the songs, most are rock solid, with the exceptions being "Shades of Heavenly Death" and a few of the movements of "The Ivory Gate". It's an anomaly in the band's discography, since they would shift to a new direction with the follow-up, and perhaps best regarded as Fates' sole entry into the thrash metal genre that was dominating the world in 1988, without losing touch with the melodic power side of its elder siblings. And, let's be honest, how many songs are as fun for headbanging with friends as "Anarchy Divine"?
Highlights: Anarchy Divine, Silent Cries, In a Word, (most of) The Ivory Gate of Dreams
Sometimes one must calm yourself down, take a deep breath, and judge something on its own merits… but this is neither the time nor place for that! No Exit isn’t a bad album, I could begrudgingly call it a good one – but just look at it! Its title alone is not one of fantasy, magic, and wizard’s sleeves, no, but more akin to something you’d see on road works… however, unlike the sign next to the road, which may prove meddlesome to pedestrians, No Exit is pedestrian! Awaken the Guardian and The Spectre Within are titles for metal albums, No Exit? No, I’m not willing to accept that, not at all.
With this album Fates Warning went from the ethereal mistress of the forest who was distant, magical, arousing, throbbing, hard-on, err, to the pleasant but not altogether wondrous woman at the checkout of your local supermarket. Yes, she’s nice enough – but all too keen to fondle your tangerines, she likes Rush too much, and ultimately missing a certain je ne sais quoi (which is French for John Arch). Yes, I’m well aware that Fates Warning could well have descended into the realms of being merely good rather than being ASTROMICAL FANTASTIC AMAZING TRANSCEND EVERYTHING as they were with Arch. But his presence alone would have been more welcome, even if they did turn into a dullard hard rock band who tried to get a sing-along going to ‘Exodus’, in which Arch would sing “Exodus”, and the filled arena would chant back “ascend the plane exile this medium of bondage far beyond the myriads of crypts and pyramids beyond the harpy vultures guarding their tombs, Arcana awaits”. You know, that would have been funny at least. On No Exit Fates Warning went in the direction of more normal things, things I understand, things that you can comprehend – and my God it was disappointing! As I may not understand Awaken the Guardian but in the name of all that is John Arch, I get up every afternoon, scrape the crust off my jeans, and try! Fates Warning: up my ears and in brain.
‘Anarchy Divine’ itself is an excellent song, more thrashy than anything that preceded it, but even on a song as exceptional as this some shortcomings are readily apparent. Firstly, the production is a bit more cumbersome and some of the band’s personality is lost in translation through it – Steve Zimmerman doesn’t sound as unique as he did previously. Secondly, Ray Alder is here. He is a good singer I will begrudgingly admit that. In any other band he might have been excellent, but this isn’t another band – this is Fates Warning. His voice has similarities to other things; occasional touches of Michael Kiske, even some initial similarities to Arch himself, but along with this we get things I have no interest in like that yelping, worm-headed thing, Geoff Tate. ‘Silent Cries’, again, is decent it might even tempt me to be subjective and accommodating of this painful change. It has got a similar pulsating guitar work that certainly is still very much Fates Warning, the vocals, too, are very much complementary to the whole vibe. But alas, I’m already familiar with Awaken the Guardian is this a pale, underwater imitation.
There is a really, long epic song here – it’s really long and epic, and I can’t get into it at all. You never noticed how long ‘Epitaph’ was, it feels like about two or three minutes at tops, this one feels long. I can seldom actually make it through it without yawning, breathing a deep hateful sigh, and looking out of the window in hope of seeing something more exciting like pigeons or paint drying on the fence below. Honestly, talk about falling into the trappings of progressive metal! This sounds like prog metal, all that run-of-the-mill stuff. People actually forget how progressive the band’s second and third records are, that’s how good they are! But, what of this? Disjointed, or so it would seem, maybe it’s the fact that my computer has separated the track into its individual parts, and as such I notice the nanosecond it takes for the change to occur. Individually, some of the sections are pleasant – especially the more mellow parts, but altogether it doesn’t seem fully integrated. Maybe I’m listening to Opeth? But wait, this is still okay, so maybe I’m listening to Witchfinder General? Maybe, just maybe the point of this song was to make a bunch of fragmented ideas and put them together in a manner that would have me thinking “Hmmm, Fates Warning are losing it… guess I should be thankful that they didn’t put out another completely amazing album, I’d probably would have killed myself if they went shit after that.” If that is the case, Jim, then mission accomplished!
This is a noticeably worse record than the two records that came before it. Therefore it gets a lower score, that’s how this rating system works, right? Anyway, this review is dedicated to the loving memory of John Arch era Fates Warning, if only they’d stayed away from that busy road…
John Arch, who made thee?
John Arch, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
John Arch, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
John Arch, I'll tell thee,
John Arch, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a John.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou an Arch,
We are called by His name.
John Arch, God bless thee!
John Arch, God bless thee!
Often passed up by purists whom had an obvious attachment to John Arch and younger fans of the band who see Fates Warning culminated in the “Perfect Symmetry” and “Parallels” release, “No Exit” is the obvious pick amongst this band’s back catalog as a diamond in the rough. Although not the greatest album the band has ever put out (I personally think it’s the second best), it is definitely their most underrated release. It is neither the epic tales of otherworldly themes set over Thrash/NWOBHM riffs found in the John Arch era, nor is it the neo-progressive anthems of self-analysis and introspection found in the later Ray Adler material, but instead a rather curious marriage of both approaches.
Much of the music on here is heavily Thrash driven; challenging the stereotype that Queensryche was already establishing that Progressive Metal was titled more towards the first half of the label rather than the second. “Anarchy Divine” and “Shades of Heavenly Death” are the most unapologetically Thrash driven, giving Overkill and more traditional Thrash acts a run for their money in the heaviness department, while being twice as adventurous in the realm of sectional contrast and complex time signatures. “Silent Cries” is mostly a heavy up tempo track, but also provides us with some acoustic interludes that further expand the atmospheric qualities of this album. “In a word” and the brief title track at the beginning have some Power Ballad-like qualities, the former passing between a dreary sounding intro/verse and a heavier chorus, the latter being a somewhat tonally ambiguous and confused atmospheric prelude that hints at some conventional laws of metal being bent or broken.
The highlight is obviously the song that occupies the entire second side of the original cassette (which I possess in addition to the CD) titled “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. Structurally it is quite similar to the famous Rush epic “2112”, although musically it is the next step up the progressive ladder and lyrically it is cut from a different nature. The chapters contained within dance back and forth between the Thrash inspired elements of the other songs on here and a new found Neo-Classical approach that is a bit different from the more folk inspired acoustic work done on “Awaken the Guardian”. There is a singular theme originally stated in “Innocence” (the first part of the song cycle) is brought back a couple of times through out the duration and aids in linking the entire suite together.
Although not quite the unique vocalist and nowhere near the lyrical master that John Arch was, Ray Adler is among the more accomplished singers ever to take the stage. His style is heavily reminiscent of vocalists such as Rob Halford, providing a more jagged edge approach to the higher register that his predecessor put forth in a less aggressive manner. Adler also gets the job done in the middle and lower registers, where some of the more sleaze oriented singers tend to struggle a bit. Stand out performances are found on “Anarchy Divine”, “Silent Cries” and throughout the duration of “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”.
As someone who has enjoyed music from both eras of Fates Warning, I have come to appreciate the intricacy and the uniqueness of this album. In many ways it is more aggressive than the Arch material, although lyrically and vocally it is not quite as unique or revolutionary. To my skeptical purists out there who think that this album is interchangeable with later Adler material, it is not. To my intellectually detached Dream Theater fans who think that technical ability is the only necessary component of metal, give this a listen and see if you can maintain that erroneous viewpoint afterwards. This album deserves a bigger audience then it currently has.
This album was my introduction to the 80's catalog of Fates Warning, and this is also an album that makes me wonder what happened to this band on the albums that would follow this one. Overall, this was one of the more unique albums I've heard from this era, as this is progressive metal with the occasional thrash riff/distortion thrown in once in a while. So in other words, expect to hear an album that is both intelligent and bottom-heavy, and not a lot of meandering atmospheric interludes that bore the listener. They have yet to match the quality of the first three albums with John Arch and this release, the first with Ray Alder on vocals.
The Highlights: Every song on here except the title track, shines in some way or another. "Anarchy Devine" is one of the best prog songs from this era, bar none. It starts off with an excellent riff pattern that sounds almost thrash-like in style at times, although at first, the speed really isn't achieved. Then the vocals come on and it sounds like Alder trying to give his best Bruce Dickinson impression. The guitars from Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti from this point on in the song is quite fast, and has a nice time change about 2/3 of the way through. "Silent Cries" is more of the same, and "In A Word" offers a change-of-pace because it is slower in the beginning before becoming heavier once the chorus starts. "Shades Of Heavenly Death" begins with a thrash-style riff section, and is fairly fast-paced throughout.
And then we get to the epic that closes and takes up more than half the length of this disc in the form of the eight-part "The Ivory Gates Of Dreams". This song is full of time changes, and if you are expecting Dream Theater wankery in this song, look elsewhere. There are really no two-minute long guitar solo wankery displays, keyboard work (although this would change on future releases) or any of the atmospheric interludes that just take up disc space and waste time rather than add to the song. The guitar playing on this song resembles same-era Crimson Glory at times, without losing too much of the intensity riff-wise. Alder uses his emotional delivery very well on this song, and the transitions from part to part is seamless.
The Lowlights: The title track that opens the album. It's only 41 seconds long, and all there is is lead guitar pushed to the back in production and a brief vocal performance. Given it's length, I can't really call it a "song" at all. Also, the cover art sucks ass. I have no idea what the artist was thinking when he came up to it, but it just looks fucking hideous to these eyes. As for the production, it's hard to hear the bass tracks on this album. That's a small flaw though, as many bands with limited budgets seem to suffer from the same problem.
Who this album's for: Fans of 80's prog metal, back when many bands who played this style played it quite a bit heavier than the intensity it's played at now most of the time. Crimson Glory and Queensryche fans in particular should find a lot to like about this album.
The bottom line: Solid thrash-tinged progressive metal and a nice change of pace from their first three albums. Recommended.
This is the last great Fates Warning album before they decided to throw out any semblance of being interesting. Some of the same ideas that made The Spectre Within so great are present here as well, and also the album is heavier and thrashier.
We start with the title track, which is about 45 seconds long, before we get into "Anarchy Divine", that has a really fucking nice thrash riff to it. In fact, there are quite a few really nice thrash riffs in this song. This intro just could very well be mistaken for Nuclear Fucking Assault - well, until the vocals begin, which are complete Halford worship. Ray Alder puts in a competent performance on this album. Not quite as completely fucking interesting as John Arch, but he still manages to hit a whole royal fuckload of high notes and come through with awesome power.
That's probably the best song on there, "Anarchy Divine"... "I will keep my own time!!" Next, "Silent Cries", which alternates power metal during the verses, and then a really monstrous thrash riff after the chorus, which continues into the middle section underneath the guitar solo.
"In a Word" is slower and features some actual singing from Ray Alder - still very powerful, and overall quite a great song. Next, "Shades of Heavenly Death", which brings back the thrash riffs and is probably the heaviest song Fates Warning ever did.
Then, the rest of the album is the 20 minute long "The Ivory Gate of Dreams". It's complicated enough, and has sufficient sections, that it does not get boring after 20 minutes. There are some galloping Iron Maiden parts, some overt thrash riffs, and some quieter parts - and they flow together very nicely, creating a marvellous epic.
Yes, after this Fates Warning completely fucking fell apart. But people tend to lump this album in with the later Alder stuff, just because it doesn't have John Arch. It's still one of their finest efforts.