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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.