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Fates Warning is one of those bands that honestly took me a long time to get into, especially with how the earlier albums turned me off, and for one reason: John Arch's vocals. I was honestly annoyed by his over-the-top vocals, and I was more of a Ray Alder fan. My first exposure to the band was Parallels, so I assumed that was their main sound: commercialized progressive rock with hints of metal a la Queensrÿche post-The Warning. And so, I avoided the band's earlier catalog for several months.
But one day, I was curious as to what it was that made The Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian classics among true metal fans, that I finally started spinning a few tracks off them both. I remember hearing the majestic beauty that is "The Apparition", and how brilliant its guitars sounded in the recording. At the time, I was still very much more of a Ray Alder fan, but I was beginning to appreciate John Arch more as a singer. I also heard "The Guardian", taken from the album right after it, Awaken the Guardian, and the vocal harmonies were definitely getting to me. I then decided to sit down and listen to BOTH albums in full; I honestly liked what I heard, but had a bit of a hard time choosing between the two. Thankfully, I was able to reach a verdict on my favorite Arch-era Fates Warning album: The Spectre Within.
Now, why did I pick this one over Awaken the Guardian? While the former isn't as heavy as the latter, it had one main thing that made it such a near-perfect offering: consistency. Yes, The Spectre Within is consistent, from the atmospheric "Traveler in Time" to the depressingly eerie "Epitaph", sandwiching other classics such as "Without a Trace" and "Kyrie Eleison".
There are no passengers on this album; Jim Matheos and Victor Arduini form a flawless team of co-lead guitarists, Joe DiBiase's bass doesn't slouch when things pick up, Steve Zimmerman pounds his drum set like a feral beast that's just waiting to strike any moment, and finally -- John Arch belts out some of the finest, most incredible vibratos on this album. Not to mention, by the way, how extremely poetic the lyrics are. "The Apparition", "Epitaph", and "Orphan Gypsy" especially make this obvious.
Really, I've never heard a progressive metal album as brilliant as this one, and whatever fanboyism I had for Ray Alder's stuff was COMPLETELY erased from memory. I just have so many things to say about this album that would likely be the size of a fucking chapter book, but will conclude that this is simply a masterpiece that should be heard by ALL fans of Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Crimson Glory, and other bands alike.
Review posted at forcesofsteel.com