Posts Tagged ‘ Mark Zonder ’

Album of the Week 24-2019: Fates Warning – Inside Out

‘Inside Out’ always gets lost in the shuffle between the hyper-accessible ‘Parallels’ and the ultra-proggy monolith that is ‘A Pleasant Shade Of Gray’. Personally, I consider it superior to either of those. Sure, the flat production and the dull cover art really don’t do the songs any justice, but the classy melodicism that always characterized guitarist Jim Matheos’ songwriting is taken to its logical extreme here. I understand why many consider the album lacking in terms of heaviness and intricacy, but Fates Warning always was more about the songs than displays of virtuosity and ‘Inside Out’ fits that paradigm perfectly.

Stylistically, ‘Inside Out’ is pretty much a continuation of the sound heard on ‘Parallels’ three years prior, albeit with an even bigger emphasis on melancholic melodies. The arrangements are less dense, though the occasional rhythmic complexity is still there – this has Mark Zonder on drums, after all. In terms of songwriting, the material on ‘Inside Out’ is notably more tailored to Ray Alder’s vocal range, who simply delivers the performance of a lifetime here. Adapting the music to his voice rather than the other way around is a large part of why the album sounds the way it does.

‘Monument’ is the only song that has been a consistent live staple since the release of the album and it is not hard to understand why. With an incredible bass riff in 7/4 driving the song and some unexpected elements popping up, such asMatheos’ classical guitar solo, it could be characterized as the most progressive moment on the record. Alder’s impassioned performance is somewhat reminiscent of ‘Parallels’ highlight ‘Point Of View’ and the dynamics strongly enhance the atmosphere of the track. Along with the cool start-stop riffing of opening track ‘Outside Looking In’, it best represents the classic Alder-era Fates Warning sound.

As good as those songs are, however, the overall sound of the album is best portrayed by its more concise moments. ‘Pale Fire’ successfully marries Fates Warning’s accessible side with their progressive roots, while having a chorus that is so powerful that I can even forgive Matheos for rhyming “fire” with “desire”. ‘Face The Fear’ combines Zonder’s busy drum work with Matheos and Frank Aresti weaving a fantastic tapestry of riffs and bright, clean guitar strums and ‘The Strand’ probably would not have worked on any other Fates Warning album, but does here. Its atmosphere brings to mind mid-nineties alternative rock, just with significantly more inventive writing and playing.

Of course, ‘Inside Out’ is not perfect. ‘Down To The Wire’ is a blatant ‘We Only Say Goodbye’ rewrite, ‘Shelter Me’ is a tad too melodramatic and the inoffensive ballad ‘Island In The Stream’ really starts to drag halfway through. But everything else on here is much better than it tends to get credit for. It may not be the most challenging album from a playing viewpoint and the production really could have used some extra punch, but to dismiss Matheos’ songwriting here for not being prog enough would both be unfair and untrue.

Recommended tracks: ‘Monument’, ‘The Strand’, ‘Pale Fire’, ‘Face The Fear’

Album of the Week 21-2019: Arch/Matheos – Winter Ethereal

With Arch/Matheos being active, there are essentially two Fates Warnings, the one actually called Fates Warning being fronted by Ray Alder. Neither are very prolific; they have a combined grand total of four albums this decade. However, all four are excellent, so that should not be a reason to complain. Jim Matheos found a niche for himself that works, but at the same time provides him with enough opportunities to experiment without straying too far from his core sound. ‘Winter Ethereal’ fits that niche. It’s slightly more streamlined than ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, but similar enough to appeal to the same audience.

Not unlike on their debut album, or even the two-track ‘Twist Of Fate’ EP released under John Arch’s name, ‘Winter Ethereal’ sounds like twenty-first century Fates Warning tailored to Arch’s vocals. For those of you who have never heard them, imagine an esotheric Bruce Dickinson and you’d be close. Unlike their debut, however, Arch and Matheos rotate the cast of backing musicians on the record with several Fates Warning alumni (Frank Aresti, Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarzombek, Joey Vera, Joe DiBiase) and a couple of respected names in the field of progressive rock and metal (Sean Malone, Steve DiGiorgio, Thomas Lang, Matt Lynch).

Maybe it is the close connection that all these musicians have to the history of Arch and Matheos, but ‘Winter Ethereal’ eludes the musical posturing and lack of cohesion that most of these super line-ups have. The men whose names are on the cover are in control here, that much is never in doubt. And despite a couple of fantastic guitar solos on ‘Vermillion Moons’ and ‘Solitary Man’, Matheos is more concerned with getting the riffs and the atmosphere right. He certainly does here. Despite the heaviness and complexity, ‘Winter Ethereal’ always remains a pleasant listen, which has been Matheos’ trademark for all of his recent material.

Easily the most metallic track on here is ‘Wrath Of The Universe’. It’s wild and Matheos enhances the rhythmic violence of Jarzombek and DiGiorgio by often layering two contrasting guitar parts; one aggressive, one creating breathing room. Clever writing. The brilliantly atmospheric ‘Pitch Black Process’ is a more contemporary progressive rock track, though with distinct heavy riffing, somewehere along the lines of a more metallic Porcupine Tree. Closer ‘Kindred Spirits’ is the only 10+ minute song this time around and it is a strong, dynamic track that highlights all that Arch/Matheos has to offer in a surprisingly fluent fashion. The other large epic is the powerful opening track ‘Vermillion Moons’, which “only” clocks nine minutes.

Though ‘Winter Ethereal’ is not perfect – ‘Never In Your Hands’ is a little plain and the ballad ‘Tethered’ is good, but drags a little at several points in the song – it is simply a no-brainer for anyone who loved the debut and even the last two Fates Warning albums. The album is dynamic, powerful and intricate, but never too complex. Such listenable progressive metal is hard enough to come by these days, but Arch and Matheos certainly give a few young bands – as well as a few burnt-out old ones – a lesson or two in prog songwriting here. Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wrath Of The Universe’, ‘Pitch Black Process’, ‘Kindred Spirits’, ‘Vermillion Moons’

Album of the Week 46-2014: Warlord – Deliver Us

Some legends of Heavy Metal have their praise based on an incredibly small amount of output. For many of the unsung heroes of the NWOBHM movement, only a handful of singles remains as a monument to their supposed brilliance. California’s Warlord has recently expanded their catalog a little, but for a while, two half-hour albums were all the band had going for them. The praise they got, however, was more than deserved. While their original oeuvre predates the term Power Metal, that’s exactly what it is. And the whole thing sounds remarkably sophisticated for the genre too.

Despite the consistent input of drummer extraordinaire Mark Zonder, Warlord is and will always be the brainchild of guitarist William J Tsamis – “Destroyer” in the credits. His classy riffwork and unorthodox approach to Heavy Metal songwriting – some things he said in interviews may make one doubt if he ever actually liked the genre – are what make Warlord’s music. Listen no further than the semi-title track to this debut EP of theirs; ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ counts as an ultimate Heavy Metal classic through its triumphant main riff, marching rhythm, subtle keyboard flourishes and beautiful vocal harmonies.

And that brings us to one of the other redeeming factors of ‘Deliver Us’. Singer Jack Rucker – “Damien King I” in the credits – isn’t your typical Heavy Metal singer in the sense that he doesn’t have the raw, primal power that is normally associated with the more traditional variation of the genre, but his voice fits the ethereal quality of the melodies on ‘Deliver Us’ so well that it’s hard to imagine these songs with a different singer. He carries the changes in atmosphere in the brilliant ‘Penny For A Poor Man’ with remarkable ease. It borders on unbelievable that Rucker never did anything of particular relevance in the Metal scene after leaving Warlord, because his vocal performance here is among my favorites in the history of the genre.

‘Child Of The Damned’ is one of the more popular songs on the album due to inclusion on the Metal Blade compilation ‘Total Destruction’ and HammerFall covering the song much later. It is definitely the most explicitely uptempo song on the album and benefits from a great riff and fantastic double bass work by Zonder. Even better is the ‘Metal Massacre III’ inclusion ‘Mrs. Victoria’, due to its darker, ominous tone. That one’s only included on the re-release of ‘Deliver Us’, but it definitely rounds out the release. The more tranquil ‘Winter Tears’ is another brilliant track with a great vocal part courtesy of Rucker.

It’s easy to understand why ‘Deliver Us’ has earned its classic status. It’s a classy Power Metal album with a unique approach to Heavy Metal songwriting. The expert musicianship from everyone involved does the rest. Tsamis and Zonder have continued the Warlord legacy intermittently throughout the years and although they’re still releasing quality material, but the way all the starts have aligned for ‘Deliver Us’ is a rarity. A rarity waiting to be heard.

Recommended tracks: ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, ‘Penny for A Poor Man’, ‘Winter Tears’

Album of the Week 43-2014: While Heaven Wept – Suspended At Aphelion

Ambition isn’t a thing that eludes Tom Phillips. From their humble beginnings as an old school Doom Metal trio, While Heaven Wept evolved into a seven-piece that – while still relatively subdued in terms of tempo – combines influences from many subgenres into a unique, majestic form of Heavy Metal. For me, as a fan of their massive epic ‘The Furthest Shore’, the announcement that ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ would be a fourty minute song (divided into eleven chapters) meant anticipation. And expectations are met; ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ is a beautiful work of art that has brought While Heaven Wept to a whole new level once again.

Labelling the music on this album isn’t an easy task. There seems to be a basis of symphonic Heavy Metal, but it definitely has a progressive edge to it. The progressive side isn’t all that surprising, as Phillips never made a secret of his admiration for Fates Warning and the album features contributions from Fates’ co-founding guitarist Victor Arduini and former drummer Mark Zonder, though the most “Metal” passages of the album are probably closer in atmosphere of the latter’s original band Warlord. Also, there are piano interludes, balladic segments and purely classical bits. Hell, ‘Icarus And I’ even features a section that has a Black Metal vibe, due to the dissonant chords and harsh vocals.

Phillips isn’t the only reason why this album is so incredible. Throughout the band’s existence, he has always profited from the strengths of his fellow musicians. Singer Rain Irving has an enviable range that is perfectly able to carry this masterpiece emotionally, Jason Lingle’s keyboards are essential to the album’s sound, Mark Shuping’s strings are tear jerking and Christopher Ladd’s work on the classical guitar is simply a revelation. The cooperation of the latter two on the breathtaking overture ‘Introspectus’ is more beautiful material than on many a contemporary album, but ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ has 35 additional minutes!

To get an idea of the sheer scope of the album, just listen how the progressive instrumental chapter ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’ moves into the epic Metal of ‘Souls In Permafrost’ through the heart wrenching piano ballad ‘The Memory Of Bleeding’. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The enormous amount of emotion could have easily carried on too far into the cheesy and the many layers of instruments could have turned into hollow bombast, but instead, the results are overwhelming. It is sort of ironic that an album that tells a tale of ambition and failure succeeds at its own ambition so well.

‘Suspended At Aphelion’ isn’t an easy album by any means, but it is well worth the time it takes to grow. There are many subtleties to grasp, but more importantly, there are many beautiful melodies and engaging rhythms to immerse yourself in all throughout the album. Or song, if you will. It will be hard for an album like this one to find its audience in the current Metal scene and its constant quest for louder, lower tuned and more extreme, but its sincerity should be enough to convince anyone with an open mind and a heart. Bonus points for the surprisingly dynamic mastering job.

Recommended tracks: ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’, ‘Souls In Permafrost’, ‘Introspectus’