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A legend returns, but can he do it? - 92%

BaronVonK, July 23rd, 2003

It seems there are two types of Fates Warning fans, the fans of the old stuff (particularly the John Arch albums) and the fans of the new stuff. While there are some fans of both, truth be told there really is a good amount of division between the two camps with even some bickering over who's better and name calling (Some of the Alder fans call the Arch fans cavemen with mullets and some of the Arch fans call the Alder fans limp wristed sissys). The problem was that before this album, the Arch fans could say that FW went downhill after he left the band and it's a direct result, while the Alder fans could say that Arch was only held on a pedestal because he had so little material with the band, while Alder was with the band more and had Arch been with them, he would have done the same. That was, until this EP was released.

I can safely say I am of the Arch fanatic camp, and while I have nothing in particular against more recent FW releases, they just don't "turn my crank" so to speak. Now, when I first heard that John Arch was indeed planning on recording and releasing an EP with a few songs, I was ecstatic, but weary. I had so many concerns: "John hasn't sung in 16 years, will his voice still be good?" "Will he still be able to write his off the chart trademark vocal melodies?" "Has he even been listening to metal in the past 16 years?" They were all valid concerns and were all vital to the idea that John Arch is the man and does deserve to be upon the pedestal he is put. When I first heard this, I was really impressed with how well his voice has held up over the years (I found out that he actually took the time to get back in shape vocally in preparation for recording of this album and while it just seems like it should be a given, so few singers do take care of their voices, so good for him). No exaggeration, he sounds exactly as good as he did in 1986. Musically, this is sort of a mixture of modern Dream Theater and Modern Fates Warning, but I'd say better written than either.

Relentless - When listening to this song for the first time, in the third verse, when John sings "Fly awaaaaaaaay", at that very moment, you know that he is back. This is chock full of patented vocal melodies the only way John could do them, like when he says "you were neeh-EH-eeeever there". The lyrics on this album are of a very personal nature, of how he apparently had a disheveled childhood and how he thought it was impossible to escape the patterns of his parents, yet manages to overcome them and learn from their mistakes and be happy for himself. This is definitely reflected in his performance and shoots down any criticism that he is only able to sing about fantasy lyrics. Not only are the lyrics personal, but they are very well written, picking the right words as to express what he means without getting in the way of the flow of the song and there is some awesome usage of symbolism and metaphor in here.
As far as the music goes, I'm not terribly wild about the mosh riff after John sings "Is this the only way?" in the opening, but other than that, I can't find too much wrong with this song. There's a really Dream Theater moment at 2:30 with the downtuned riff and sort of swirling keyboard melody and a definite Portnoy moment at around 6:30.

Cheyenne - I find this to be the weaker of the two songs, but still a fantastic song. It opens up with a nice melody that reminds me a little of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but then calms down for a nice mellow intro by John. This one again features his trademark melodies. This song is a bit confusing to me lyrically, because there's an obvious Native American strife theme throughout it with some of the sound clips, but the lyrics seem to be of reflection upon a lost love. I suppose the lost love could be a Native American, but it's hard to tell if that's what he intends. Overall, the song is a lot more mellow and more reflective than Relentless. The music is pretty good, sort of tame, there's a few Dream Theater moments here and there, but overall, it's more like a better modern Fates Warning. I think my favorite part about this one is the piano heard throughout the verses. At about 11:15, there's a great part where John just sings notes rather than words.

So, John Arch came back, proved himself and did it all for the love of music. I hope we hear more of you in the future John.