Posts Tagged ‘ Bobby Jarzombek ’

Album of the Week 33-2018: Fates Warning – Darkness In A Different Light


Prolific is a thing Fates Warning has not been for a while. At the time of its release, ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ was only the fifth Fates Warning album 22 years and their first in almost a decade. Maybe they needed the time to recharge their batteries, because it is easily their best in a long time. While no Fates Warning album is ever less than decent, much of the material released prior to ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ lacked either assertion (‘FWX’) or melodic content (‘Disconnected’). However, this album restores the balance that is so essential for progressive metal.

Stylistically, ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ is not too far removed from ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, the album guitarist Jim Matheos recorded with original singer John Arch. The riff work is heavy, but there is an abundance of melodic and atmospheric touches to give the material depth and lasting power. The biggest difference between the two albums is defined by singer Ray Alder, who has a much darker and more emotional tone than Arch. And while his range has not aged perfectly, the emotional impact of his delivery is impressive, resulting in what is arguably his best singing since the rather vocal-centric ‘Parallels’.

While ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ is no stylistic detour – it basically blends the heavy punch of ‘Disconnected’ with the melancholic melodicism of ‘Parallels’ – something feels fresh and more metallic about the album. My suspicion is that switching drummers had some influence on that. Mark Zonder’s skills are unquestionable, but he also has a tendency to overplay. Bobby Jarzombek is every bit as technical, but understands that even in its most complex form, heavy metal should be driven and energetic. The return of longtime guitarist Frank Aresti can also be felt in the lead guitar department, though it is still pretty much Matheos’ album.

At its best, ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ can certainly be compared favorably to Fates’ classic material. ‘Firefly’ is a gorgeous song that blends crushing riffing with a fantastic chorus, while ‘And Yet It Moves’ closes the album in a particularly epic fashion. It forsakes the suite-like nature of many long progmetal tracks in favor of a more song-oriented approach to the point where I didn’t realize I was listening to a 14 minute song until the acoustic part before the finale reared its head. The darkly brooding ‘Lighthouse’ is one of the most brilliantly atmospheric tracks in the band’s discography.

If there is anything to criticize about ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ is that it takes a slightly too obvious cue from bands that commenced their activities after Fates Warning did at times. The influence of Porcupine Tree pops up every now and then and ‘Kneel And Obey’ has a distinct Alice In Chains vibe. That is hardly an issue that ruins the listening pleasure of the album though, as it easily is one of the better progressive metal albums in recent years. Fates themselves would eventually outdo it with the slightly more consistent ‘Theories Of Flight’ three years later, but fans of intricate, yet heavy and melodically strong music should enjoy this immensely.

Recommended tracks: ‘Firefly’, ‘And Yet It Moves’, ‘Lighthouse’

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Album of the Week 49-2017: Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight

Initially, Fates Warning’s twelfth studio album ‘Theories Of Flight’ failed to excite me the way its predecessor ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ did. I dismissed it as the prog metal giants trying to repeat the same formula. Then suddenly, it clicked. And I realized that ‘Theories Of Flight’ is one of Fates Warning’s best albums thus far. Yes, it roughly follows a similar formula as ‘Darkness…’ did, but Fates Warning succeeds at blending their traditional progressive metal roots with contemporary prog rock elements in the vein of Porcupine Tree and Tool and more catchy moments better than ever here.

The guitar work of sole remaining original member Jim Matheos are an important part of the aforementioned formula. It is incredibly varied. Within the same song, it often flows from traditional heavy metal riffs to typical prog chops and atmospheric clean strums in a very fluent and pleasant manner. It would be unreasonable to ignore the contributions of Bobby Jarzombek though. While his predecessor Mark Zonder was an incredible drummer in his own right, Jarzombek plays with a comparable level of technicality, just with a style that feels somewhat looser and more driving than Zonder’s. A very solid foundation for compositions that often feel fluid.

Progressive metal has a bit of a bad rap for lacking a focus on songwriting. Enter Fates Warning. Even in their early days, they combined hooks and recognizable melodies with all the odd meters and unpredictable compositions you could wish for. Virtuosity does take a back seat on most of their albums and ‘Theories Of Flight’ is no exception. Sure, there are some great leads to be found here – remarkably, the majority recorded by former guitarist Frank Aresti and live guitarist Mike Abdow – but Matheos mainly seems interested in using his guitar for dependable melodic work.

Fortunately, this approach works very well. At time incredibly so. ‘SOS’, for instance, is a highly dynamic track with lots of fantastic twists, but its incredible chorus – performed expertly by Ray Alder – is the highlight of the song. Opening track ‘From The Rooftops’ feels like a bit of a mini-suite and as such, it is the most traditionally progressive song on the album, while ‘White Flag’ is so metallic that it would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s late eighties records. The 10 minute songs ‘The Light And Shade Of Things’ and ‘The Ghosts Of Home’ are not crammed full of ideas, but instead given room to slowly develop into multi-faceted, atmospheric masterpieces with multiple mood changes. Very impressive.

And as if the fact that ‘Theories Of Flight’ does not have a single weak moment wasn’t yet enough, Jens Bogren’s fantastic production makes the listening experience even more pleasant. Sonically, the album is as far away from the overly compressed standard for contemporary prog metal releases as it gets. ‘Theories Of Flight’ sounds organic and lively, even giving the extremely effective bass work of Joey Vera the space it deserves without becoming intrusive. This album is what happens if you put a group of incredible musicians who only care about having the music sound as good as it possibly can in one studio. Absolutely essential for fans of progressive music.

Recommended tracks: ‘SOS’, ‘White Flag’, ‘The Ghosts Of Home’

Album of the Week 51-2013: Riot – Thundersteel


Some records just scream “Metal” proudly in your face. Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’ obviously is something of a model record in that matter. However, two years prior to that classic, New York’s Riot released an album Priest wouldn’t even dare to dream of. In Priest’s defense, it would take them a little longer until they found a drummer of the same class as Riot’s Bobby Jarzombek, but that’s not the only reason why ‘Thundersteel’ is an album that is worthy of the same praise as ‘Painkiller’. Its impeccable songwriting and top-notch musicianship have proven through the years to be almost impossible to equal.

At the time, ‘Thundersteel’ was something of a rebirth for Riot. The band had been around since the mid-seventies and had recorded some essential early Heavy Metal records – ‘Fire Down Under’ above all – but it wasn’t until this album that all the pieces fell into place. Mark Reale had proven himself a fantastic songwriter and even better guitarist through the last decade and a half, but even he outdid himself here. Then there was the unexperienced, but fantastic singer Tony Moore who debuted here, the aforementioned Jarzombek and bassist Don Van Stavern, who contributed to a lot of this album’s stellar songwriting.

With that as a strong base, the album kicks off into a flying start. ‘Thundersteel’ itself is probably the most impressive, adrenalin pumping opening track Heavy Metal had heard up until then – as mentioned, this is two years before ‘Painkiller’, which it pretty much is on par with – with Jarzombek’s rolling bass drums, Reale’s blazing riffs and solos and Moore soaring on top of that. If this doesn’t get your blood cooking, you’re not into Heavy Metal, it’s that simple. Quite a lot of American bands did this kind of classy, melodic Heavy Metal at the time rather successfully – Leatherwolf, Omen and Savage Grace come to mind – but none had summed up Heavy Metal as well as ‘Thundersteel’ did.

However, there’s more after that amazing title track. In fact, the album is a continuous source of highlights, my favorite of which being ‘Johnny’s Back’. Lyrically in the same vein as Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, the song is a combination of fantastic climaxes, a brilliant chorus, amazing riffs supported by Jarzombek’s pulsating drumming and a masterclass in lead guitar work. The nostalgia displayed in the lyrics somehow is reflected really well in the song’s melodies. Other highlights include the eighties USPM riff fest that is ‘Run For Your Life’ and the near-Thrash riffing of ‘Flight Of The Warrior’. But even when the band slows down, as heard on mid-tempo stomper ‘Sign Of The Crimson Storm’ and closing Doomster ‘Buried Alive (Tell Tale Heart)’, they impress.

Contemporary Metal fans have the tendency to ridicule this kind of Metal somehow, but I have yet to see one of the newer “heroes” of the scene come up with this combination of energy, melody, instrumental mastery, class and compositional brilliance. Sadly, chief songwriter and master guitarist Mark Reale passed away about two years ago, leaving a void in the genre that only true experts seem to acknowledge. ‘Thundersteel’ is his magnum opus, an album that should be heard by anyone who loves Heavy Metal the way it’s supposed to be played.

Recommended tracks: ‘Johnny’s Back’, ‘Thundersteel’, ‘Run For Your Life’

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