Upon receiving the promo copy of the 12th studio album from progressive metal pioneers Fates Warning, I was faced with a dilemma. What does one write about when trying to describe a legendary band that blazed a trail for every band that followed them? Do I start from the very beginning when the band hailing from Hartford, Connecticut burst upon an unsuspecting metal world with Night on Bröcken, performing their unique brand of Iron Maiden/Black Sabbath inspired technical heavy metal with original vocalist John Arch or how the band reinvented themselves on 1988’s thrashier and heavier No Exit with new singer Ray Alder? Since that time and numerous line up changes, the band continues to defy trends, re-invent and re-invigorate their sound with incredibly inspired masterpieces such as Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, A Pleasant Shade of Grey, and now their latest opus, Theories of Flight.
Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of their last studio offering Darkness In A Different Light. Not that it was a band album by any means, the songs simply didn’t resonate with me and stick with me over repeated listens. This is not the case with Thories In Flight. From the first listen I was drawn in by the atmospheric melancholy intro to From The Rooftops which at the two minute mark transforms into a maelstrom of heavy riffs, a technical barrage of drum work by longtime drummer Bobby Jarzombek, a blistering guest guitar solo from sometimes Fates member Frank Aresti, and a huge catchy chorus that ranks up their with Fates Warning’s best work.
Speaking of catchy choruses and memorable hooks, the next track, Seven Stars is simply a stunning piece that rivals anything on the Parallels album, which is arguably the benchmark for the bands most melodic and most commercially successful period. From start to finish, Seven Stars is a perfect Fates Warning song; a blend of melody, hooks, heaviness, and a soaring, memorable chorus that will stick with you long after the song is over, just begging for another spin.
The next track titled SOS is another intense and immediate heavy yet hook-laden song with an amazing vocal from Ray Alder, whose voice sounds better than it has in years, using his powerful mid-range and talent for finding the perfect vocal melody to capture the vibe of the song and make it his own. When Alder sings the line Sink or Swim during the chorus you feel every word deep in the recesses of your heart and soul.
The Light And Shade of Things is classic Alder-era atmospheric, melancholy, brilliantly performed progressive metal with an intensity and ferocity and passion in Alder’s vocal delivery. Every word that is being sung feels as if its being ripped from the depths of Alder’s very soul. The chorus is huge, emotional, and soaring into the stratosphere. The breakdown mid-song harkens back to the Parallels album, reminiscent of The Road Goes On Forever.
White Flag is a heavier prog metal burner with a great riff and driving rhythm and Aresti once again lends a brilliant shredding guest solo to the proceedings, which fits the songs intensity and power perfectly. Newest touring member Mike Abdow also adds a creative and impressive solo as well.
Alder once again shines on Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen, singing with passion and intense emotion to convey the songs message as well as the overall theme of the album, which deals with upcoming change — deliberate choices to take a different direction in life, a large part of the album’s overarching themes of transience, disconnection and the search for solid ground. Alder’s lyrics and emotive vocals are beautiful, self-reflection, asking the listener to trust their memories, to hold onto them even as we forge into future unknowns. This songs subject matter as well as the overall lyrical concept hit me especially hard due to current things going on in my personal life and made me really take a deep look at my own inner self, my emotions, and my own sense of being.
Matheos’ lone lyric wrting credit is on the albums magnum opus, the ten minute-plus Ghosts of Home, deals with, as Matheos describes in the albums promotional sheet, “The Ghosts Of Home is me reflecting on how moving frequently as a child — eight times in the first nine years of school — affected and shaped my personality, something I’ve only recently been digging in to. It also references me revisiting a lot of those places as an adult.” The lyrics convey a cathartic release of very personal emotions for the usually reserved Matheos, the quiet yet masterful songwriter. The amazing thing is that no matter how many years go by and how many albums/songs that Matheos writes and records, he still never fails to impress and provide awestruck amazement at his ability to draw emotional responses from the Fates Warning faithful, which as an artist, that would be incredibly rewarding to make the lister feel like they are part of your journey.
The albums final song, the instrumental title track brings the album full circle with an atmospheric textural feel, summing up the albums overall message, talking about various uprootings, escapes…flights, how life is always changing, giving us new experiences, good and bad, and how we deal with these changes, how they affect us, change us, and how we evolve with change. With Theories of Flight, Fates Warning has once again outdone themselves, creating an album that stands tall alongside their best work, as well as proviing to their peers and newer bands who have taken inspiration in their work that this band has much more to say and has plenty left in the tank! If you have ever been a fan of Fates Warning, I urge you to pick up Theories of Flight. You can thank me later!