Progressive Rock/Metal

Fates Warning – A Pleasant Shade of Gray

So where do I begin? And what else is there to say? Tee hee. ahem Okay. This is often lauded by Fates Warning fans as being their “masterpiece.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s definitely ambitious, it’s an impressive piece of work, and it stands out in the vast crowd of heavy metal posers out there (prog and otherwise).
From the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s, Fates Warning pioneered and cultivated a slick prog-metal sound, refining it over the years to produce a tasty heavy metal brew. Well, after 1994’s Inside Out, the group lost a guitarist and a bassist. They got a new bassist, but instead of getting a new guitarist, they added keyboards (played on the album by that dude who used to be in Dream Theater) to fill out their sound. As a result, this doesn’t sound much at all like their previous efforts.

Great, so what does it sound like? I can’t draw too many comparisons, and this is probably a Good Thing. Maybe a little bit of Rush (circa Moving Pictures), but based more on heavy metal than AOR. Before this, their last few albums sounded quite a bit like Queensryche, but this album moves away from that. A heavy depressive air hangs about most of this, and that’s pretty much the concept behind this album. It’s raining outside, and the protagonist lies awake at night, contemplating life. Sometimes the band jumps out of bed and rocks out, but most of the time they’re lying in bed in thoughtful reflection. Even the full-volume parts sometimes feel more like interludes than actual parts. That’s my chief complaint about this. There are a lot of themes thrown around, and not a lot of it is developed very well. They’ll jam on something for a bit, and then move on to something different. There are a handful of themes that are developed (the industrial “bleed into nothing” chorus and the piano/guitar duet for example). In this sense, it doesn’t feel like a single song to me. There are definite breaks in the music, when they stop and then go into something unrelated. Some of the tracks (III, IX) feel like separate songs by themselves.

But aside from my minor gripes about the lineup and the flow (or lack thereof), this is pretty good for what it is. I find that it’s good music to sit and mellow out to, and maybe get a little depressed. There are some good “classic” moments that grab my attention (like between Parts IV and XIII, and the last couple parts). Jim Matheos has been the musical driving force behind the band for years now, and I’ve quickly developed an appreciation for his subtle, slightly depressed style of playing. Actually, everyone in the band is very good at what they do. I don’t hear a lot of flashy playing, which is rare in prog-metal. But again, I don’t think this is particularly metal. But now I’m going in circles, so I’ll just end this review here. Cue rain. 🙂

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