Sometimes a band releases a debut album that simply blows you away. Other times a debut is more of a hint of what is to come. In the case of Fates Warning's first record "Night on Brocken", the case is certainly the latter. A respectable record in its own right, "Night on Brocken" gives us a glimpse of what was to come, without giving away the end of the story.
At first glance, there is little to distinguish Fates Warning from other metal bands of the time. High pitched, wailing vocals? Check. Mystical, semi-occult lyrics? Check. Dual guitars? Check. There just isn't much that instantly sets these guys apart. But a closer inspection of this album starts to tear down these assumptions. Of course, knowing what Fates will become helps as well, but I will endeavor to set that bias aside for the majority of this article.
"Night on Brocken" is a true metal album, with very little of the progressive elements that would go on to characterize so much of the band's later work. The songs are straightforward, shorter and relatively direct. Distorted guitars abound, often trading solos mid-song. The dueling guitars also seamlessly compete for the melody, creating great guitar harmonies. Perhaps most distinctive are the vocals. While not the best showcase, I cannot say enough about John Arch's vocals. Wailing and high pitched, but possessed of an unmistakable quality, he is one of my all-time favorite vocalists. And his vocal melodies are some of the most unique in the world of metal. Rarely heading the direction you expect, the melodies on "Night on Brocken" continue to leave the listener guessing.
Note: The remastered version contains some demos and earlier versions of some songs found on the final album. The sound quality isn't great, but it is fun to hear the evolution of some of the songs.
Tracks to catch:"S.E.K" is a great acoustic piece. "Misfit" does an excellent job of highlighting the distinct vocal melodies. "Damnation" hints at some of the band's more progressive songs to come. "Shadowfax" is a fun instrumental that conjures up images of Gandalf racing across the plains of Gondor.