As one of the most important bands in the history of progressive metal, you can easily say that Fates Warning have never released a bad album, though it's hard to top such beloved classics like Awaken the Guardian, No Exit, Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, Inside Out, and A Pleasant Shade of Gray. Over the last decade or so, lead singer Ray Alder spends half his time with his other band Redemption (who arguably have put out stronger material than Fates), longtime drummer Mark Zonder has left, Bobby Jarzombek has joined, guitarist Frank Aresti has popped in and out, and the band had a few reunions with original vocalist John Arch. Fast forward to 2016, and the line-up of founding guitarist Jim Matheos, Alder, bassist Joey Vera, and Jarzombek have created the follow-up to 2013s strong Darkness in a Different Light, titled Theories of Flight. How does it stack up you ask?
Well, quite well actually. While Theories of Flight is certainly a familiar sounding Fates Warning album, in spots it's very heavy, as well as proggy, no doubt the shadow of Alder's success with Redemption weighing over Matheos, as he seems to have upped the ante here with more challenging arrangements and thought provoking lyrics this time around. "From the Rooftops" is classic, brooding, complex Fates Warning, filled with churning guitar riffs, intricate rhythms, and Alder's always soaring vocals. The vocalist also shines on the lengthy "The Light and Shade of Things", a tune that starts off with a tranquil, almost bluesy intro before crushing riffs and potent vocals come crashing in, complemented by a killer chorus that Alder drives home as only he can. "Seven Stars" is another driving prog-metal thumper with an equally killer hook, and the tumultuous "White Flag" sees Vera & Jarzombeck digging deep with some thunderous grooves over which Matheos's massive riffing totally takes charge. Though Aresti appears on the album briefly to drop in a few solos, much of Theories of Flight is sparse of lead guitar, and ironically the songs are so good as they are you don't really miss it. Take the raging "Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen" for instance, an aggressive track that has some of Matheos' more violent riffs on the album, but other than a brief solo, it's those riffs and Alder's melodic delivery that pull you in and provide all the fireworks that are needed. The 10-minute "The Ghosts of Home" is sure to be a treat for any progressive metal fan, filled with complex arrangements, plenty of atmosphere, and just the right amount of melody, drama, and virtuosity, while the moody, melancholy title cut closes things out in gorgeous fashion, layered with electric & acoustic guitar, sound effects, and brooding atmosphere.
Not to downplay FWX, Disconnected, or Darkness in a Different Light, each one strong in their own right, but Theories of Flight is a different beast and easily the best thing this band have done since 1997s A Pleasant Shade of Gray. There just seems to be no slowing down Fates Warning, one of the front-runners of the '80s prog-metal scene, as evident by this complete winner of an album, which is sure to be a favorite of many here in 2016.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1) From the Rooftops
2) Seven Stars
4) The Light and Shade of Things
5) White Flag
6) Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen
7) The Ghosts of Home
8) Theories of Flight