In the early-to-mid 1980’s “progressive metal” was born. Combining the riffing of metal luminaries such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest with the song structure of progressive rock bands such as Yes, Genesis, and Rush, prog metal emerged as an alternative to the popular glam and mainstream bands of the time. In some ways, the genre has never lived up to its potential, though, as bands that were actually making music that sounded new (e.g., Cynic, Mr. Bungle) were overshadowed by many more than were just inching forward. Over the last 30 years, it has been hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Fates Warning was one of the pioneering metal bands of the 1980s. While never veering far from the metal genre, they explored tricky time signatures, long-form songs, and metaphysical lyrics. As the thinking-person’s metal band, they produced three albums with leaders John Arch (vocals) and Jim Matheos (guitars) before Arch left. While Fates continued, recording off and on throughout the 90’s and 00’s, many fans still view the Arch / Matheos years as producing the group’s classic albums.
Skip to 2011. Arch and Matheos team up again and record a new album under their own names. Featuring three former Fates members backing them up, perhaps they should have considered using the Fates Warning moniker for their new effort. Simply put, Sympathetic Resonance is the best Fates Warning album by any lineup of the band, band names aside.
The album opens with “Neurotically Wired,” an 11-minute tour of the updated, yet classic, Fates Warning sound. Arch chants as much as he sings over acoustic interludes and guitar-based themes that are both staggered and nimble. Other highlights include “Midnight Serenade,” featuring Arch’s clear vocals, and “Stained Glass Sky,” which begins with a three-minute, rapid-fire, prog-metal instrumental section. The album ends with “Incense and Myrrh,” a song about loss that could be called a power-ballad, for lack of a better term. Arch’s lyrics reach toward the mystical and religious, though they are easy to ignore if that’s not your cup of tea.
While Sympathetic Resonance does not necessarily break new ground, it takes what Fates Warning did best, and improves upon it. A very satisfying release.
- FATES WARNING Members Talk About Their History; Video Available (bravewords.com)