Fates Warning – X
When a band releases an album that is universally hailed as a masterpiece of its genre, it sets an awfully high bar for the band’s future efforts. And, let’s face it, very few bands (especially prog bands, it seems) call it quits while they’re at the top of their game. So listeners and critics have the interesting task of figuring out how to evaluate albums that follow in the footsteps of acknowledged masterpieces.
It might be a bit of a stretch to call A Pleasant Shade of Gray a masterpiece of the prog-metal genre, but at the very least it is Fates Warning’s masterpiece. The fact that I even mention it when it is not even Fates Warning’s most recent album before this one is a testament to the impact that it had on listeners’ perception of the band. Everything the band does in the future will, in prog circles at least, be compared to A Pleasant Shade of Gray, like it or not. That’s what you get when you have the gumption to release a one-song epic that’s actually good.
So to get straight to the point, no. No, FWX is not as good as A Pleasant Shade of Gray. But that’s perhaps an unfair comparison; yet FWX doesn’t do too well in a more apt comparison, which is to say that it doesn’t really stack up that well against Disconnected, the band’s previous effort, either. Too many of the songs here are pedestrian verse-chorus metal exercises. As a result there are plenty of songs that would make great singles – “Simple Human”, “Another Perfect Day”, “Crawl” – but not that much that’s really memorable or hard-hitting.
The strength of Fates Warning’s previous two albums lay in their structure: both had strong, overarching themes and fit together very well. By contrast, FWX seems like just a collection of songs, an impression strengthened (perhaps unfairly) by the fact that most of them are typical song-length affairs. But more problematic is the simple fact that there’s just nothing new here. Some of the songs are really nice; my favorites are the moody opener and closer along with “River Wide Ocean Deep”. And of course there are plenty of crunchy riffs, and lots of predictably creative drumming from Mark Zonder. But something’s missing.
In retrospect, one of the things that’s sorely missed is any kind of keyboard presence. There are some subtle electronics here and there, but Kevin Moore is not a guest on this album as he was on the previous two, and his contributions, however subtle they may have been, are very much missed. To their credit, even without Moore’s characteristically atmospheric keyboard playing, Fates Warning still manage to evoke a strong, dark mood; but this time around there’s not as much substance to back it up. And yet I should stress that I began this review the way I did for a reason: FWX is a perfectly fine and quite enjoyable album (and fans of the band should pick it up without hesitation); it’s just in comparison to the band’s previous two works that it pales a bit.