Fates Warning – No Exit
By the time Awaken the Guardian came out, Fates Warning had claimed a territory on the heavy-metal map, and now they were functioning more as a serious band. Of course, this placed more demands on band members’ time, and not everyone was ready to commit. The rest of the band put singer John Arch in the unfortunate position of having to choose between Fates Warning and his real life. He chose the latter. But Fates Warning soon bounced back with the addition of an eager little whipper snapper of a fan from Texas by the name of Ray Alder. Ray was eager to impress his favorite band, and showed off the high end of his vocal range to good effect. I feel Ray is a much more accomplished singer, and has a much better up-front voice, though John Arch’s unique style is missed sometimes.
This is often lauded as FW’s heaviest album. It’s probably the fastest and crunchiest. In general it seems less intricate than Guardian. Whether this makes it “heavy” is something I take issue with. The production, frankly, isn’t all that great. For a “heavy” sound, the guitars should be much meatier than they are here. Maybe it’s the Jackson guitars. Overall, it sounds dated, and of lesser sound quality than its predecessor. If I want something heavy, there are plenty of other bands from the 80’s to the present that fit the bill.
Of course Fates Warning isn’t, and has never been about being the most X-TREME(!) band around. They write songs in a (progressive) heavy-metal paradigm. As before, there’s lots of chopped-up trickiness and oddity in the rhythms, interesting melodies sung in a high-pitched wailing voice, etc. On this album, they have developed their sense of songwriting tact a little better than on Guardian. There’s not as much splicing together of unrelated bits, and songs are shorter and more concise as a result. “Silent Cries” and “In a Word” are highlights of this, foreshadowing the kind of accessible sound they would soon assimilate.
So then there’s “The Ivory Gate of Dreams,” their prog-metal version of “Supper’s Ready.” It starts with an acoustic intro, moves through a few unrelated song bits, builds with an apocalypse part, and ends with a big grand finale. I like a lot of the bits (especially the harmonized guitar riffage and the acoustic interludes), but as a single composition, I’m not convinced. The live version on Still Life at least does a better job rocking, with rougher production and heavier guitars.
And that pretty much sums up how I feel about this album. There are a few songs that I like, but as a whole, it doesn’t do much for me. If you’re a Fates Warning fan already, you’ll want this, especially if you like the heavy stuff. Otherwise, maybe not quite so much.