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(52 min, Metal Blade)
TRACK LIST: 1. Left Here 7:00 2. Simple Human 4:02 3. River Wide Ocean Deep 6:10 4. Another Perfect Day 4:44 5. Heal Me 7:39 6. Sequence No-7 2:13 7. Crawl 4:22 8. A Handful of Doubt 5:06 9. Stranger 4:20 10. Wish 6:39 All music: by Matheos. All lyrics: by Matheos & Alder. Produced by Matheos & Alder. Engineered by P Magnotti. LINEUP: Jim Matheos - guitars; keyboards Ray Alder - vocals Mark Zonder - drums Joey Vera - bass
Prolusion. Released last November, "FWX" (i.e. Fates Warning X) is the tenth, jubilee studio album by FATES WARNING, marking the band's twentieth anniversary in addition. They were pioneers of Prog-Metal in America and, like those approached the genre before them (Black Sabbath, above all), they paved the way for those who came after (Dream Theater, amongst others). On "FWX", the band is comprised of Jim Matheos, Ray Alder, Mark Zonder and Joey Vera, Jim handling also keyboards. In other words, this is the same lineup (minus Kevin Moore, of course), which first appeared on "Inside Out", ten years ago.
Analysis. In the few years following the release of "Disconnection" in 2000, the songsmith for Fates Warning, Matheos, almost completely got stuck in various side adventures, from solo stuff to the all-stars OSI project. So I was really curious to know what the band has to offer the listener after a four-year hiatus. The album has the trademark Fates Warning sound, and yet, it is noticeably different from any of their other output. There is nothing supernatural about the fact, as the continuous transformation of their style has always been the essence of the band's creation. A weaving of old and new, "FWX" is somewhat less complicated than "Disconnected" or "A Pleasant Shade of Grey", but don't worry, it's not a departure to the more conventional sound of "Parallels" or "Inside Out", by no means! Well, gone are large-scaled keyboard arrangements. Gone, too, are the blood-curdling solos from Jim's electric guitar, but much more hypnotic than before is his playing guitar riffs, often coupled with pretty amazing acoustic guitar work and lush synthesizer patterns, particularly on each of the five songs exceeding 5 minutes in duration: Left Here, River Wide Ocean Deep, Heal Me, A Handful of Doubt and Wish. The new music is a darker and, simultaneously, more euphonious Cathedral Metal, rooted in classic Doom Metal of the '70's, though it didn't go without some hints to modern Nu Metal, and also Industrial. The other songs: Simple Human, Another Perfect Day, Crawl and Stranger differ from those named above mainly by the heightened rawness of sound, which, at least partly, is due to the lack of keyboards. Only vocals remain typical, distinctively Alder's, while in the general musical context, these four remind me a bit of early Black Sabbath. I had the temptation to subject some other tracks to comparison when listened to them, so I will, with your permission. The echoes of The Battle of Evermore by Led Zeppelin are heard on River Wide Ocean Deep, and those of Alan Parsons' A Dream Within a Dream on Wish. The first of these, and also Heal Me, both of which feature some coloring of Oriental music, are my favorites, though overall, they just a bit surpass the other songs, as all of them are very good. At least, they are much to my taste. The only instrumental piece, Sequence No-7, departs from the Rock format in a dark electronically symphonic Ambient. The lyrics are good, but are just Alder/Matheos, who don't set the world on fire in this field, unlike John Arch, no offense intended. For the most part, they don't shine with profundity, reflecting a hero's rather vague feelings about the world's imperfections, strangely blended with love romanticism. However, that's not a big deal when music is so magnetic throughout, just as "FWX". All in all, this is unwarranted as Fates Warning is very much their own band, with a sound that is their own. There's no contradiction between this remark and the above meditations, inasmuch as minor influence and originality aren't antagonists. What is familiar about their music lies at the heart of their music, which is the songwriting of Jim Matheos. As with any true composer, there will be elements that are recognizable from song to song, a phrasing or chord progression. As an author's use of language keeps readers coming back for more, so does Jim's writing, at least compositionally.
Conclusion. Definitely, this is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Although a bit less intricate than some of the earlier works of Fates Warning, "FWX" is American Progressive Metal at its best.
VM: March 6, 2005
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