2013-10-11

Album Review: Fates Warning - Darkness In A Different Light

After a long time - much, much too long - Fates Warning has graced the world of progressive metal music with another album.

It's not as though the members of the band have been silent. Vocalist Ray Alder has recorded and toured with his brilliant side band, Redemption. Guitarist/composer Jim Matheos has released a string of albums from his OSI project with former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. Then, a couple of years ago, Matheos teamed up with Fates Warning fellows Frank Aresti, Joey Vera, and Bob Jarzombek to release the Arch/Matheos album Sympathetic Resonance. Many of the songs were originally intended for the next Fates Warning album, which didn't work out due to scheduling conflicts. Such conflicts are certainly understandable, considering the many bands on the plates of each member of the band.

Lucky for us, though, the planets realigned and Fates Warning was able to record and release their latest effort, Darkness In A Different Light a couple of weeks ago.

The album comes in the wake of the departure of iconic drummer Mark Zonder, whose thoroughly unique approach to rhythm drastically and lastingly changed the band's sound in 1989. The album also marks the return of formerly departed second guitarist Frank Aresti. The impact of both of these events is thoroughly audible throughout the record. New drummer Bobby Jarzombek's more traditionally metal approach to drumming sets the album well in line with the Arch/Matheos project of which he was also a part. Aresti's return further enables the band to explore the instrumental pyrotechnics that are so much a part of the prog-metal genre which have been missing from Fates Warning's albums since his initial departure in 1994.

What this means for longtime fans is that we can now happily expect many brilliant guitar solos. Aresti genuinely delivers the goods here. Meanwhile, fans who often expressed disappointment at the lack of heaviness in the band since Mark Zonder's arrival will take heart in the fact that Jarzombek is heavy as heavy can be.

As for the compositions themselves, they have once again been mostly penned by Matheos, and manage to evoke the best riffy-grooviness of Disconnected and surprising twists-and-turns we heard on Sympathetic Resonance. Yet, the album is melodically superior to both efforts, and for that I imagine we can credit Ray Alder, whose vocals seem to grow better and more soulful with each passing year. Perhaps most surprisingly, there are moments on the record that seem to hearken all the way back to 1988's No Exit album, in particular the extended version of "Firefly," available on the 2-CD special edition of the album, and the delightfully ambitious acoustic intro to the 14-minute epic "And Yet It Moves."

An important characteristic of Fates Warning is that really understanding what's going on in the music requires study. To appreciate what the band has done on this album, one simply has to listen to it repeatedly. The flow of the album from start to finish is classic Fates Warning. The songs that, during the first listen, appear to be more straight-forward offerings grow ever-more-elegant the more you listen to them. And even the most progressive passages on the album are expressed in a neat, concise way, showcasing a compositional maturity that is simply stunning. (Please understand that it is my opinion that Fates Warning has been well ahead of the pack on that level for twenty years at least.)

The truth is, Fates Warning is one of my very favorite bands. It is nearly impossible for me to find fault in any of their releases, and this latest is certainly no different. That being said, there are moments during Darkness In A Different Light - especially the softer passages - where I find myself wondering how Mark Zonder might have approached the rhythm. The re-addition of Aresti has also pushed the keyboard work - a prominent feature in the bands last 3 or 4 efforts - back into the background, which may put off fans who came to the band either through their landmark A Pleasant Shade Of Gray album, or via OSI.

For my part, however, I find the album a remarkable return to form. It's not just a good effort, it puts the band back on the prog-metal map - something that tends to happen every time they release a new album. Fates Warning seems to have been aware of how long we fans have been waiting for this album, and they managed to deliver a stunning collection of all of their best characteristics, from the complex arrangments to the harmonic twists, to the virtuosic guitar interplay, to the best vocal performances this genre has to offer.

It is a brilliant album.