From the outside, it appears that three types of people listen to Fates Warning – the over fifties hard rock crowd, the metal guitarists who can read sheet music, and most of Germany. Now on their thirteenth album after re-signing with Metal Blade, their brand of old school heavy metal and progressive rock is like Apfelwein for the discerning cider drinker. With an obvious influence on Dream Theater and Queensrӱche, not to mention ninety percent of the artists on InsideOut Music, the Connecticut quartet are undisputed legends for those in the know. Power metal acts all over Europe are just as indebted. This is a record with big expectations, and they do not disappoint on Long Day Good Night.
Opener, ‘Destination Onward’, is an eight-minute reckoning built upon the foundations of simple palm-muted notes and tom drums. Like any prog band they develop the composition with gradual precision, teasing out all sorts of intricate lead guitar melodies and bass fills until the tempo settles into a thumping heavy metal feast. ‘Shuttered World’ is just as technical with Jim Matheos layering the twin guitar attack using downward palm-muting in one ear and open scale riffing in the other. This is rock guitar with a capital ‘R’.
All 1980s prog metal bands from the NWOBHM school had to adjust their sound in the 90s to stay relevant. Two albums helped them navigate the choppy waters of the grunge and nu metal years. Gretchen Goes to Nebraska by King’s X for pioneering the drop-D guitar sound in modern rock music and Soundgarden’s Superunknown, which gave them a template to channel their hard rock into something louder and more aggressive without sacrificing the melody of their earlier work. Tool and Porcupine Tree worked their way into the mix in the twenty-first century. All are on show here but not in a derivative way. The band’s ear for contemporary metal is impressive on the likes of ‘Scars’ and ‘Liar’, two anthemic numbers that give Ray Alder the perfect platform to demonstrate the muscular melody of his voice. Yet they can just as easily draw on Led Zeppelin on ‘Begin Again’ and even experiment with a Depeche Mode vibe on the excellent ‘When Snow Falls’. It goes without saying the musicianship is world class. Every band member could be a teacher at the Berklee School of Music, yet they never forget the listener. You’ll find no pointless keyboard solos or extravagant shred detours, but there are no shortage of sensational lead guitars or bass runs, either. On Long Day Good Night, they get the balance just right.
However, a couple of things will make you cringe as you immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of the music. As a band that released their first album in 1984 with no shortage of heavy metal clichés, Fates Warning are also guilty of the odd moment of AOR embarrassment. ‘The Way Home’ starts like a Michael Bolton ballad before progressing into an intriguing Tool-esque journey through all manner of overlapping time signature changes. It would be forgivable if they didn’t follow it up with the middle of the road plodding of ‘Under the Sun’, which sounds as boring as The Lighthouse Family and as anachronistic as Mr Mister. There’s no need to write these types of ballads for the cougars in the crowd to wave their smartphones like senior groupies at a Bryan Adams concert.
Fortunately, these aberrations are easy to forget in the last third of the record, which is as strong as the beginning. ‘Glass Houses’ is a banger, and the majestic eleven-minute helping of virtuoso prog metal on ‘The Longest Shadow of the Day’ is as good as ‘Trial of Tears’ by Dream Theater. The guitar work is out of this world, full of twisting passages and alt-picking riffs that rival anything by Dave Mustaine. Fans of the bass guitar solo will feel their eyes bulging. This is prog metal at its sophisticated best.
Fates Warning prove once again that their song-writing credentials are as good as their exquisite musicianship. They might still have one foot in the 1980s but the other one treads the contemporary metal soundscape with bravery and confidence.
Release Date: 06/11/2020
Record Label: Metal Blade
Standout tracks: Shuttered World, Scars, The Longest Shadow of the Day
Suggested Further Listening: King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), Dream Theater – Falling into Infinity (1997), Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (2002)