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Fates Warning is probably the earliest example of the merging of the Progressive musical approaches of bands such as Rush and the heavy metal genre as pioneered by the NWOBHM bands. They have had sort of an unofficial rivalry with another pioneering band of the Prog. Metal genre Queensryche according to the critics, although their music is actually about as comparable as night and day. While the Seattle based quintet was mixing keyboards in and delving into political concepts, this group of musicians from Connecticut dealt mostly with mystical themes, although this album is a bit of a departure from that approach in favor of a more philosophical approach.
In terms of the music, this is probably Fates Warning’s most accessible release, particularly in terms of structure. Songs such as “Eye to Eye” and “We only say Goodbye” are extremely catchy ballads with all the hooks necessary to be radio-friendly, I believe that latter actually did enjoy a fair amount of attention from the mainstream. “Leave the Past Behind” and “Point of View” have some rather complex musical devices, but still have highly catchy choruses and a very straight-forward structure. “Don’t Follow Me”, which is my favorite track on this release, is almost a hold over of their early work on “Night on Brocken” in how well it combines the sound of Iron Maiden with their own style. “The Road Goes on Forever” is a rather slow and straight-forward ballad that lacks any real climax, and takes my pick for the weakest track on here, I would have put this track before “Don’t Follow Me” so it could have ended on a more triumphant note.
There are two tracks on here that contain a lot of the more progressive elements that defined their previous 3 releases. “Life in Still Water” is structurally a fairly simple track, but the off-beat drum beats and constant fill-ins, superimposed over a rather intricate set of riffs make it a bit of an outlier amongst the more catchy songs. “The Eleventh Hour” is the longest and most formally complex out of the bunch, and is loaded with many formal twists and turns. This is Ray Adler’s highlight vocal performance, as he stretches into the upper limits of his register, and floods the entire song with a strong sense of passion. Although I am partial to track seven on this release, most fans of Progressive Metal will definitely eat this song up.
It is also necessary to point out, just so that fans of more guitar driven metal aren’t overly disappointed if they choose to take this review as a recommendation to pick up this album, that Fates Warning is not a band that is defined by their guitar solos. Although they do have rather well placed solos that are technical enough, they are in by no means the amazing technical displays that you get out of bands like Dokken, Judas Priest, or MegaDeth. If there is a guitar player that I can really compare Jim Matheos’ to, it would be a combination of Chris DeGarmo and Alex Lifeson.
In conclusion, this is an album that is highly accessible to fans of metal outside of Progressive circles. Some fans of Prog. Metal might be a bit disappointed with this one, but it has a lot of the same strengths that “Perfect Symmetry” and “Awaken the Guardian” had, just in a set of songs with simpler structures and less odd time references. Fans of more traditional metal will find things to like in here, and fans of melodic power metal whom don’t live and die by the cliché drum beats of the style alone might find some keepers on this gem. This comes highly recommended to all said parties.