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Fates Warning is one of my favorite bands, and this is one of their albums that I simply cannot get into. At all. I'm not sure why, as everyone seems to think of it as of their better albums, if not their best, yet it simply leaves me feeling completely and utterly underwhelmed. Where other people hear a great prog rock/metal classic, I just hear a heap of commercialized rock that festers in its own mediocrity.
Stylistically, this takes the meticulous, mechanical sound presented in Perfect Symmetry and continues it, with a bit of a shift towards a more emotional style. I actually find the vocal performance here better to be the only thing on this album that is truly better than Perfect Symmetry, as I always found the Alder's vocals to be a bit too whiny on that album. The improvements end there, however. The guitar work on this album is about as boring as guitar work gets - It's not energetic and attention-grabbing (such as the guitar work on Spectre, Guardian, or No Exit), nor is it thought provoking and emotive (APSoG, Disconnected) - it simply plods along, playing thoroughly uninspired riff after uninspired riff. There are a few good leads scattered throughout the album, but they are too few and too short to really impact the overall impression of the album. The production doesn't help; the guitar far too quiet in the mix, in fact, everything here is pretty drowned by Alder's vocals, which, while not bad, are still not his best, being too whiny for my taste. The songwriting, too, takes a turn for the worse, with every song trying its hardest to sound catchy, yet not quite getting there. By the bands own admission, they were attempting to write singles with this album, and it really doesn't suit them very well. Zonder's drumming is top notch (that's almost a given), and is a redeeming factor, but once again it's too little to significantly improve the album for me.
Nothing on the album is truly bad. In fact, in terms of commercial rock, it's quite good. However, I don't listen to Fates Warning for a commercial rock album, I listen to Fates for top-tier prog metal, and top-tier prog metal this is not. The album sounds forced and dull, and hardly ever does it truly grip me over its entire 45 minute duration. It's easy to listen to, and can be relaxing, but it's simply not emotionally or intellectually engaging in the way their best albums are.
The songs themselves are all very listenable, with nothing gratingly wrong to make you want to turn off the album, but once again, that's not the problem. There's simply no inspiration here, the band seems to just be going through the motions. Leave the Past Behind inches along with its echoey acoustic guitar interrupted by some very generic pre-chorus and chorus riffs, leaving absolutely no impression until it reaches its lone guitar solo before descending right back into the stupor from which it came. Eye to Eye sports a particularly cheesy opening section before diving into some very overdone vocal lines by Alder. The rest of the album seems to follow suit, with Point of View being perhaps the only track that I would genuinely listen to as anything other than background music.
I don't know what Fates Warning was trying to do with this album, but I really don't get it. Try as I might, I don't particularly enjoy Parallels (or its slightly more boring twin, Inside Out). While Parallels receives its heaps of praise, I think I'll go back to The Spectre Within or APSoG, as, at least for me, both are far superior to the uninteresting 45 minutes of uninspired prog rock.