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Fates Warning: Perfect Symmetry

Fates Warning's Perfect Symmetry is a truly historic and genre-defining recording in progressive metal. Up until the late 80's, a term as "progressive metal" didn't even exist. It could be easily argued that Perfect Symmetry and Voivod's Nothingface, both released in 1989, are the first albums that marked the birth of really heavy, crushing metal elements blended with progressive music. This is different from any Rush, King Crimson or Yes inspired band. This is METAL with serious progressive overtones. Many people who listen to Perfect Symmetry today may find it a tad flat and uninspiring, but I challenge those people to go back to the year 1989 and find equally genre-busting, original, creative, forward-going releases. From a historical context, Perfect Symmetry ranks right on top of the list as one of the most influential albums ever.

This is drum god Mark Zonder's debut with the band too. Listening to Zonder's drumming is a true delight. I don't think I've been amazed of this magnitude by anyone else's drumming; Mark Zonder gives Fates Warning a new edge, makes them a better, more challenging act with tons of chops and transparency. Whilst this is merely his first album with the band, he works the drums with blistering power and accuracy, adding various odd-metered rhythms. Founding member Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti are still deeply rooted in a metal territory but their songwriting has moved towards a more cohesive style. Frank Aresti continues to integrate his impeccable skill into the songs as Matheos experiments with melody and harmony. Vocalist Ray Alder sings in a more disciplined manner; rather than screaming every verse, he's creating gripping melodies and delivering haunting lyrics. He's not as effective in the music as he's on the band's 90's albums, but he's certainly getting there. DiBiase on bass is less prominent than, say Awaken the Guardian, but then he is more of a straightforward bass guy whose style would better fit the John Arch-era. Still, he's there 100% with subtle rhythms and bass grooves. Guesting on the album is ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. Many think that Moore only played on Fates Warning's 1997 and 2000 releases, which is true to a certain extent. Kevin was a key member on A Pleasant Shade of Gray and Disconnected as he played practically on every song, but his real debut with Fates Warning is Perfect Symmetry, the track "At Fate's Hands". This is one of the longest songs on the album beginning with a forlorn violin piece alongside Moore's distinctive piano melody. As Zonder plays with his cymbals, Kevin creates a creepy atmosphere which serves as a backdrop to the lengthy instrumental passage interwoven by Matheos and Aresti's celestial lead guitar melodies.

The songs are pretty nicely evened out. There are compact metal songs such as "The Arena" and "A World Apart". Mainly composed by Frank Aresti, the latter begins with dark and brooding acoustic guitars (which Aresti is great playing at) and introduces an unexpected odd-time polyrhythm by Mark Zonder before it delves into a dexterous and melodic guitar solo with lots of tapping sweeps. This is, in my opinion, one of the best solos on the album. "Part of the Machine" and "Static Acts" are penned by Matheos and Aresti respectively. Both guitarists play melodically strong solos that descend over Ray Alder's lyrics. Alder particularly sounds great on "Static Acts" signalling the fact that he will be a defining element on the band's future releases.

"Through Different Eyes" and "Chasing Time" are the album's ballads. Matheos comes up with a somewhat bluesy guitar line in the intro of "Through Different Eyes", which is enhanced by piercing screams from Ray Alder, and later a breathtaking guitar duel between the two axemen. I've always believed the style explored on this song is further developed on the band's subsequent release, Parallels. "Chasing Time" offers more violin and string instruments with emotional singing from Ray Alder. The progressive climax of the album, however, is the last song "Nothing Left to Say". At nearly 8 minutes, the song finds the band in their most extreme and experimental prog metal phase. Plenty of solos abound the compositions with polyrhythmic drum attacks, dense rhythm and lead guitars, and complex time signatures. Matheos' lyrics once again are only a small taste of what's yet to come.

The only setback of Perfect Symmetry is its production. Roger Probert is obviously more of a traditional Heavy Metal producer as he doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the band's stylistic direction. Some of the arrangements are weak and the stereo mixing is flat. There's little separation of the instruments or the vocals. However, this minor problem is overcome on the later albums as the band matches up with renown producer Terry Brown. This is a very key album in the evolution of progressive metal and essential to anyone who is interested in finding out the roots of this ever-changing genre. I also usually recommend this for starters, after Parallels, of course.

Track Listing

  1. Part of the Machine
  2. Through Different Eyes
  3. Static Acts
  4. A World Apart
  5. At Fate's Hands
  6. The Arena
  7. Chasing Time
  8. Nothing Left to Say

Added: May 8th 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Fates Warning
Hits: 5999
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

Fates Warning: Perfect Symmetry
Posted by Hugh Dark on 2006-12-22 13:00:31
My Score:

Fates Warning's music could be described as the colors of fall struggling to retain their hue in lieu of the oncoming winter. This analogy starts with this cd as it explores musical and lyrical depths mostly unseen in their material till this point. This release is reserved for those people with a higher musical acumen than the usual metal Neanderthal.
In the production we find much atmosphere and excellent separation of the instruments. Contrary to the review above; if this was not the case the cd would sound like mush and the recording is way to crisp, clinical and cleansed. It must be mentioned that this is 1989 and without the benefit of a remaster it sounds excellent today. This recording is acoustically splendid and that really shows on songs like Chasing Time. In terms of frequency response, it favors the high end of the spectrum and has a fair share of midrange as well. You can tell that a lot of time was taken in creating "symmetry" in the instruments and the rhythm guitar is the most debatable. It can be ascertained that a fair amount of compression was used in their recording and this does allow them to sit very evenly in the mix, but it severely limits their dynamic range and their ability to punctuate certain rhythmic flairs that would have benefited the songs in a more typical fashion. Be aware, this is not a typical "metal" album by any means! Distorted guitars serve as a means to an end in this recording. The clinical and unwavering nature (the rhythm guitars) of the recording goes very well with the aforementioned theme stated in the beginning of this writing. There is a coldness that is served in many of the morose tones and lyrical prose presented. Actually, even "the quiet" or "space and dimension" has a place in the mix that serves musical and emotive purpose and it would be my guess that's why the rhythm guitar is the way it is and that is to take emphasis off "the metal" and put it on the mind. In essence, this recording is more of a musical novel and not a genre to maintain.
Let's take a brief look at some of the songs; pulled randomly and are not necessarily indicative of my personal favorites. "Chasing Time" is in my opinion, the very best that is offered on this disc and in the bands entire catalog. The theme the lyrics present seems to indicate a "quiet hopefulness" and a "delicate perseverance". In no other place on the cd do the production and the music come together as well. The violin solo is dynamically stunning and lends an orchestral beauty to the piece. The bass swells with warmth and the vocals are emotive and passionate. The complexity is the summation of the minimalist parts sewn together in complete complimentary fashion. Perfection!
Another song that I find interesting is "Part of the Machine". This song is important because it describe the spiritual death that was suffered by our fathers and grand-fathers in perpetuating the industrial complex. Even though production is all but extinct in North America, stagnation found new ways to exist. Also, you get an introduction to the rhythmic puzzle that is Mark Zonder.
A World Apart penned by Frank Aresti, seems to describe a world buckling under the weight of its own excesses. There are great extended leads from both players that help punctuate the mood. Admittedly, I am profoundly taken by the lyrical content as much as the music on this disc.
At Fates Hands is a fan favorite and incredible song in its own right. This song was penned by the 3 members of the band that were living together at the time of this recording. Ray Alder mailed in his parts from Texas and Mark Zonder from California. This was the first release to make use of the post in this fashion. This "collectiveness" is a rarity in the latter collection of Fates Warning material and one must wonder if they had continued in that fashion, how they would have sounded. This song really hints at some of the sounds that Dream Theater would come to stylize and no small wonder that Kevin Moore makes his keyboard debut here! I believe that the lyrics (An ode to hope) in this song were written to flow over the music and the theme and words carefully chosen for that purpose; more-so than definition.
I will choose another Frank A. song, "The Arena". He must really be complemented on his use of poetic device. The key here is flow and description. Don't worry so much about the theme, but in the beauty of the two adjectives that follow each proceeding sentence. For example, "Words of cunning—shinning, stunning. Frank was a genuine artistic rival to Jim Matheos and I suspect that this may have lead to his departure in the band. With Jim being an original member his fate was sealed. I never thought the band was the same after he left either. You could see that it was coming as his songwriting contributions declined in number until the end. I mean, he wrote half of this recording being reviewed! You will never convince me that someone with as much creative energy as Frank could not find a forum in the band to present in, without having limitations exerted on him. He was also the better lead player of the two, but in the end, it was not his band.
Finally, "Through Different Eyes." This song describes the helplessness in change and the loss of identity that occurs in the progression of life. There is a certain "maturity" that sets up the music and lyrics that allows it to retain a timeless quality. I almost defy the lyrics as the same sentiment still comes to me when I hear the music. "Changing hearts will hide the past from tomorrow." I guess I will have to get to the end before the theory is proven.

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