Thursday, May 05, 2005

Fates Warning: FWX

By: Fates Warning
Year: 2004

For many years, Fates Warning was an enigma to me. I was sufficiently prog savvy to know the name, and had heard one rather pedestrian live track. But that really was the extent of it. Then, in 2002, things changed. I listened to 'Disconnected'. I was astounded. I was blown away. I needed more. And so I began to explore the back catalog of this amazing band. Then I explored some of the side projects. And I just listened to the music. And listened. 'Disconnected' became easily one of my most played albums. But something was missing. In the interim there was no news of a new Fates album. And I craved that excitement that comes from anticipating a new album from a favorite band.

Once the announcement was made that Fates Warning was in fact back in the studio and working on their 10th album the celebration could begin. The release of the first single "Simple Human" on their web page fueled that already bristling excitement and energy. It was a polarizing track though. Many fans found it too simple, to much like Ray's side project Engine. Others found it aggressive, gritty, and powerful. I fell into the latter category, and that low quality download was played time and time again. Upon release my hands literally trembled as I opened the CD and put it into the stereo. And I was greeted by a choir of crickets. Then entrance of the entrancing acoustic guitar was all it took. I was hooked. This was new Fates Warning.

'X' is a carefully measured album, both heavier than and not as heavy as its predecessor. Jim Matheos, the true mind behind Fates, proves that he is capable of writing music that both embraces and defies current trends in rock and metal. Some of the songs could very easily fit into the playlist of any modern metal radio station, while others would never make it. The album is very deceptive. On the surface it seems rather simple and accessible, but the rich depths of music that are present are only discovered after repeated and careful examination. The guitar is aggressive when it needs to be, careful at other times. A nice balance of electric and acoustic guitars complement many songs on 'X'. Joey Vera is solid on the bass, as he always is. And Mark Zonder turns in another subtly brilliant drum performance. But I cannot talk about Fates Warning without praising Ray Alder's talent. His voice on this album is excellent. Age has made his voice more rich and full, and that is apparent on this album. Easily one of my favorite vocalists, Ray's voice, coupled with Jim's powerful guitars really drive this album forward.

Tracks to catch: "Left Here" is heady, complex progressive metal tune that is sure to confuse some folks. But those with a penchant for something more than your standard song will find this a moving, powerful gem. "Simple Human" is a driving, gritty, aggressive song that begs for some head banging. "Crawl" is a deliciously cynical tune, one that I can't help but scream along with. "River Wide, Ocean Deep" utilizes Middle Eastern overtones to enhance an already potent song. "Heal Me" is quite possibly the most powerful song I have heard in years. Absolutely stunning.

Rating: 4/5
'X' is just about everything I hoped for in a new Fates Warning album. Still distinctly Fates, but a progression from their previous releases, it is a must have in any rock/metal fan's catalog. It could be lamented that we don't have any 15+ minute epics on this disc (such as "Still Remains" on 'Disconnected'), but I appreciate the desire to not repeat themselves. Many of the shorter songs still manage to maintain a very epic feeling to them. The overall tone of the album is certainly dark and cynical, but tastefully avoids falling into the angst so common among modern rock. The only complaint I would lodge is that the album becomes somewhat predictable, alternating between slower, longer songs that build, and shorter, straight ahead rockers. But this is a minor complaint, and one that hardly detracts from the greatness of the album.

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