1991's Parallels is, in my opinion, a great place to start with Fates Warning, especially if you've never heard them before. As much as I love the John Arch-era of the band, I feel Parallels marks their perfect transition from their old school roots to their more atmospheric experimental prog phase. This album lies somewhere in between with guitarist Jim Matheos focusing his attention and power on more concise songs, developed melodies and mapped out compositions. Unlike the band's earlier material, all songs are entirely written by Matheos; and therefore more defined and purposeful. Vocalist Ray Alder is more established and sings with more confidence. He is no longer trying to please the older Arch-era fans, but going for his own musical expression. Another new member, Mark Zonder, adds his unique drumming skills with a lot more subtlety, compared to Perfect Symmetry, his debut with the band. Second guitarist Frank Aresti and bassist John DiBiase are still present, but their impact is less forceful than before, as they take a back seat when it comes to the songwriting.
Parallels also marks the band's marriage with successful producer Terry Brown, formerly of Rush fame. Finally a Fates Warning album sounds complete in every aspect, including production. The mix is sparse and crisp giving the songs a fresh feel. Jim Matheos' guitar arrangements have grown more complex and Ray Alder's vocals are more upfront. No wonder why Fates Warning would have Terry Brown do their upcoming
releases as well. He certainly does a flawless job. The songwriting is very melodic, but not in a syrupy sense. Not for a second is the melodic approach sacrificed, yet there are still heavy riffs with metallic drive and fluctuating time signatures emphasized by Mark Zonder's odd metered drumming and delightful polyrhytmics. Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti quite possibly play my favourite guitar solo on the opener, "Leave the Past Behind". It's a melodic solo that builds slowly upon dark acoustic guitars and
transforms into a melodic metal assault with fluid arpeggios. DiBiase's bass is tightly woven with Zonder's progressive drumming and forms the backbone of the music.
The second track, "Life in Still Water", is a headturner with its killer opening riff and Mark
Zonder's fantastic drumming. Zonder adds tasteful fills in odd times whilst Ray Alder graces the song with strong vocal melodies. Dream Theater's James Labrie also appears here as a guest, and sings verses in a contrasting tone and phrasing. Parallels was
Fates Warning's most 'commercial' sounding disc which, at first, turned some die-hards off, but all these so-called mainstream tunes easily stood the test of time. I saw Fates Warning a while back live and it was a pleasure to see them playing songs like "Eye to Eye" and "Point of View". Both songs are characterized by ear-catching melodies and Ray Alder's catchy singing. However, they are far from commerical hit attempts as the latter features a duelling guitar solo from Matheos and Aresti, which could easily wipe the floor with any other 'commercial' hit from 1991 or whatever year. "We Only Say Goodbye" is the power ballad that pulls at the heart strings and is still heavily requested in their live performances.
The album does have its progressive moments as well. Take the epic track, "The Eleventh Hour", for example. This is the centrepiece of Parallels. It starts off with shimmering acoustic guitars and profound vocals before it erupts into a mind-boggling prog metal assault with dynamic shifts of mood and textures. The melodic riffs introduced in the intro split into tremendous virtuosity solos. This was another song Fates Warning did in the concert I attended, and as soon as it started, the whole venue filled with intense emotion. A true classic indeed.
Most melodic metal bands with prog nuances or vice versa should know this record by heart. This is where it all started. This is where people no longer ignored the fact that an album could be both progressive and melodic at the same time. Like I said, Parallels is a good album to get into Fates Warning. It sure does not represent the band's whole versatility and entire back catalog, but rather than turning people off with albums like Disconnected or Spectre Within, it is relatively a more fitting recommendation. If you like this, you'll love their 1994 release Inside Out as well. If you, however, want something heavier, all you need is to go backwards and pick up Perfect Symmetry. That should give you some idea of this amazing band's growth and metamorphosis. Then you can concentrate on their earlier 80's releases and late-90's masterpiece, A Pleasant Shade of Gray.
1. Leave the Past Behind
2. Life in Still Water
3. Eye to Eye
4. Eleventh Hour
5. Point of View
6. We Only Say Goodbye
7. Don't Follow Me
8. Road Goes on Forever