Posts Tagged ‘ Jim Matheos ’

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 12-2014: Fates Warning – Awaken The Guardian


Back when being a Prog Metal band didn’t automatically mean that you tried to sound as close to Dream Theater as possible, the scene was incredibly interesting. Bands like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory and Psychotic Waltz combined the riffs and twin guitars of Iron Maiden and US Power Metal and mixed them with the ambition of Rush. Early in their carreer, with their original singer John Arch still at the helm, Fates Warning released two fantastic records in ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’. I love both albums equally and which one I prefer doesn’t depend on anything else than my mood.

‘Awaken The Guardian’ is distinguished by its twin guitar melodies, NWOBHM and Power Metal influenced riffs courtesy of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti, dreamy atmosphere and Arch’s lead vocals. While this may not quite be progressive enough for today’s Proghead – with the main progressive elements being the odd meters that sometimes pop up as well as the greater amount of complexity than was common at the time in the songwriting department – this is a mighty fine Metal record still to this day.  And its influence is perennial. Even bands from outside of the Prog Metal spectrum – think of US Power Metal band Steel Prophet and epic Doom Metallers While Heaven Wept – owe a great debt to this record.

Part of what makes this record more interesting than the average Prog record to me is the fact that the songs are so well-written. Many bands in the genre these days write stuff that is much more complex and technically demanding than this, but they can’t write a good hook to save their lives. ‘Awaken The Guardian’ is full of good choruses and hooks. Even if they’re wordless; the chorus part of the celestial ‘Fata Morgana’ has no lyrics, but a fantastic vocal melody by Arch that is bound to cause sheer euphoria with those who hear it.

Naming highlights would be pointless, given the fact that the album – like many albums in the genre – is best listened to in its entirity. Some of the albums that stood out for me personally are the aforementioned ‘Fata Morgana’, the relatively Thrashy ‘Valley Of The Dolls’ with its awesome Jim Matheos riffs, the dreamy ‘Guardian’ and the monstrous closing epic ‘Exodus’. Opening track ‘The Sorceress’ is probably the most progressive track on the record with its fairly large number of odd metres and is amazing as such.

Following ‘Awaken The Guardian’, Arch left the band and with Ray Alder fronting, Fates Warning gradually moved to a more contemporary Prog Metal sound. These early classics still sound fresh and awesomely Metal today. It would take Jim Matheos and Jon Arch until the new century to reunite with two fantastic releases under their own names and Fates Warning is still around, making good records with Alder. They even came close to this fantastic record recently with ‘Darkness In A Different Light’. ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’, however, still stand as the band’s highlights for yours truly. Obligated for fans of early Prog.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fata Morgana’, ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Guardian’

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