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That's what the enthusiastic Euro crowd chants before the first classical notes of The Ivory Gate of Dreams rings out, they then swell to a cheer in appreciation of the Godfathers of Progressive Metal. It took this band 14 years to get around to releasing a live album and it was worth the wait. This is still the best-sounding live release I've ever heard and arguably the best metal album ever, production-wise. Fates Warning is one of those bands that knows how to improve on things in concert and with Terry Brown’s help look out! You’re about to get your head ripped off.
The Ivory Gate of Dreams is an epic, 20 minute masterpiece of power/thrash metal. This song rolls over the listener like an ocean of doom, with waves of heaviness broken up by wakes of clean guitar. Jim Matheos and Bernie Versailles trade fleet-fingered solos and come together for some of the sweetest guitar harmonies ever recorded. They also crunch out ultimate riffs that are not always in unison but often played in key just off of each other, something this band was known for, and the transitions between all the different parts is so much smoother than the original version of this song.
Ray's vocals are drastically improved over the studio version as well. He has a lot more control over his voice, going from growls to smooth crooning to upper register wailing while the audience participation enhances everything. It is so much better than the No Exit version that I hardly ever listen to that one. That album was the most poorly produced Fates record, it was just too damn quiet. Here, the guitars have a lot more bite than the distant original as this is the best guitar tone I've ever heard. The Ivory Tower section particularly demonstrates this with its stuttering, ultra-violent riffing; it's criminal they didn't throw Shades of Heavenly Death into the setlist with this killer tone.
The first disc contains A Pleasant Shade of Grey in its entirety and again, improvements are made in the live setting with smoother shifting of gears. You can read other reviews for details of what the album proper sounds like but suffice to say it is minimalist, syncopated and industrial-heavy; an introspective journey. The only bad thing about it is it requires an hour of your time and a certain mood to listen to.
Other highlights are At Fates Hands and, of course, Prelude to Ruin. The former has a mellow, gloomy beginning that builds up into this stop-start style of ultra riffing with exigent keyboards in the background where they belong in metal. Again this sounds much better than the studio version (are we seeing a pattern here?) since Prelude to Ruin is next and it also sounds better than it did on Awaken the Guardian! That says a lot coming from as hardcore a John Arch fan as myself. The crowd really gets roaring here, hint hint. I still remember first hearing this and being floored by how imaginative those riffs are and Ray proves his worth as a singer when he hits this "Vultures scavenge the subconscious of our hungry MIIIINDS!" Fuck, why couldn’t they have played this in full? Especially with this awesome of a sound.
From the accessible art rock (or jazz metal lite if you will?) era of this band are The Eleventh Hour, Point of View and Monument which are all great songs as well, although they don't differ much from the original cuts and have been beaten to death by this band in concert. Being that Fates refuses to play any of their older material you can expect to hear these three songs at every fucking one of their shows.
The performances from all are amazing as this music is a lot more technical than it seems. Guest guitarist Bernie Versailles shreds up Frank Aresti's old guitar lines (not that Frank was a slouch by any means) and fellow guest bassist Joey Vera (he wasn't a full-time member yet), who is the most entertaining band member to watch live, pleasantly punches his way through this mix. The musicianship is particularly noticeable albeit in a subtle way during the lengthy APSOG, where they make no mistakes. Mark Zonder shows how Steve Zimmerman's quality dropped between Awaken the Guardian and No Exit. I don't hear any difference between Zonder and Zimmerman on Prelude but on TIGOD Zonder, even though he's a fucking douchebag, wipes the floor with Steve.
Those upset that there's not more older material on here must realize that at this point in their career Jim had disparaging things to say about the early material of his band. He explains his feelings intelligently but it’s still depressing to hear him say that he was upset for including Prelude to Ruin on this. I would have rather heard more older stuff hell, I would have rather heard anything else from these guys than the throwaway song, We Only Say Goodbye, the worst song Fates Warning ever recorded.
I would still recommend this to a newbie interested in this band, as you get a good representation of early, mid-period and modern-sounding Fates.
Fates Warning is one of the rare US staple metal bands that I sadly never got the opportunity to see in the live setting, and so hearing a live album or watching a video of a performance was never out of the question for me. To be fair, the band did not try to exploit this on their fans, and waited a good 8 albums before issuing this Still Life double-live effort. It was recorded in Germany, in April of 1998, and it sounds fairly tight, with a lot of crowd interaction before and after the songs, but a sound that likely sounds just like the band before they're mixed on a studio album. That being said, you will need a serious streak of masochism to enjoy the actual contents of Still Life...
And this is due to the unfortunate decision to perform the ENTIRETY of the miserable concept album A Pleasant Shade of Gray for the first disc. Yes, because it wasn't painful enough to listen through the first time, you fair concertgoers are now going to sit through nearly an hour of this tripe, which sounds to me as if the band was as bored playing it as I am listening. For fuck's sake, the band could have just played the entirety of Perfect Symmetry or Parallels and been better off, but instead, a dazed stupor. I have listened intently through this material in the hopes that these songs might transfer better to the live arena, and to be fair I like the bass better on this recording. The songs seem to have a minor infusion of energy, but too little to really register on my snore-o-meter. At the very least, this could have been demoted to the 2nd disc in the live package, because the other one blows it to smithereens.
Yes. Suddenly, disc two breathes life into the experience. But it's not just a 'who's who' of your favorite Fates Warning tracks. It actually begins with the 20+ minutes of "The Ivory Gate of Dreams" from the No Exit album. It's a risky move, but it does pay off, because even this epic is packed with energy when compared to the stolid wasteland that is A Pleasant Shade of Gray. The track feels a little more messy than its studio counterpart, in particular Alder's vocals, but it's still impressive and I'd argue that the live version has a lot more vibrancy. Now nearly 80 minutes into the experience, Fates Warning decides to settle into some of their shorter fare. Though I wouldn't call "The Eleventh Hour" short, it's 8+ minutes and the longest track on Parallels, but at least you don't have to get up for a pee and soda in the middle. And it sounds great, as does the following "Point of View", sticking to the same album and offering some much needed respite from the headier, moodier material to come before it.
The band then cycles through "Monument" from the Inside Out album, and "At Fate's Hands" from Perfect Symmetry before the absolute highlight of the whole package: "Prelude to Ruin" from Awaken the Guardian is included! It's a little strange to hear Alder singing it, but he still does a worthy interpretation of John Arch and this really makes me want to hear an entire album written in the band's old school style, fronted by the new singer. If only.... The final track here is "We Only Say Goodbye", which I suppose is only too obvious for a set closer. It's a great song, and no different in the live setting. If you've got the Japanese version of this release, you will also get a decent studio cover of the Scorpions' "In Trance", but it's a little out of place with the live material.
There are so many great tracks Fates Warning have included to make a two-disc live set worth owning, but there is no accounting for taste I guess. Though the second half is exponentially superior to the dull, rambling 'still life' of A Pleasant Shade of Gray, it's not enough to blot that from existence, and not enough to justify a purchase of this at full price. You can't tell me that the tasteful European fans (who LOVE old metal) would have not have appreciated a few more tracks from the first three albums. I mean, come on. "Kyrie Ellison"? "Pirates of the Underground"? The band would have been laid many times over by a representative of every country in the EU (their choice of male or female) had they incorporated such classics. Then again, it is possible they did, and just didn't include them here on the product itself. And that, my friends, is an unacceptable mistake in judgment! Nyar!
Highlights: DISC TWO
Fates Warning had released some fairly substantial material in the 1990s, despite the constant pressure from the trends at the time to dumb it down and play like everyone else. In the wake of what was essentially a musical wasteland here in the States, the band would release this rather phenomenal concert to CD. The only drawback to the rather sizable set list found on here is that it is all but completely devoid of material from the true high point of this band’s musical career, the John Arch era. With the exception of token “Awaken the Guardian” track Prelude to Ruin, everything here is cut from the various albums put out with Ray Adler.
The first CD in this two disk album is filled up with a performance of the entire “Pleasant Shade of Grey” album which is remarkably similar in sound quality to the studio album itself. Highlight performances on here are found on “Chapter 2” where the whole band is one tight whole, as well as on “Chapter 5” where Mark Zonder is all over the place, yet doesn’t miss a single beat. In retrospect I am somewhat disappointed that the band opted to perform the entire album when there was so much superior material found on earlier releases.
The second CD is where things get really good, as we have classic tracks from pretty much every album going back to 1986. The entire performance of “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”, “The Eleventh Hour” and “Monument” steal the show as they are the most formally and technically ambitious of the bunch. The first displays in the live capacity the genius songwriting that went on in this band back in 1988. The second features Ray Adler’s best vocal performance and a tight sound by the rest of the band. The third is just an all out great song that if played properly can not sound bad, the guitar exchange and the variety of different percussion sounds that come and go are just the tip of a very massive iceberg on this one.
One particular song on here that I found quite interesting was “At Fates Hands”, which I heard on this CD before hearing Perfect Symmetry. It meshes old style classical music with the progressive elements of Rush quite nicely, having a rather somber intro followed by a series of abrupt changeups before finally coming to a sudden stop. I’m quite sure that when people first heard this song back in 1989 they were thrown for a real loop, as it was a rather sizable departure for a band that had released more Maiden inspired music up until that point.
For the prospective buyer this album is a good buy, although the fact that the entire “Pleasant Shade of Grey” album is on here may turn off older fans of Fates Warning to it. If you like Rush, Dream Theater, Queensryche, or any of the other old guard of the Progressive genre, this is a solid live album that displays the perfectionist ideal that every musician of this persuasion has been reaching for.