With a nine year gap between their last two studio albums, Fates Warning fans will no doubt be overjoyed the band are about to deliver a brand new work just three years on from 'Firefly'. And they'll be even more ecstatic when they discover what a musically majestic beast of a record it is. 'Theories of Flight' encapsulates the essence of true progressive music. That is, a series of songs created by a band who aren't trying to be progressive, and have succeeded in making an album that excites, bewilders and captivates in its own naturally conceived space, where songcraft hasn't been sacrificed for aimless innovation.
One of the album's predominant strengths is that it achieves a perfect balance of light and shade throughout, in terms of changing moods and songs' divergences through both mellow and heavy passages. Rather aptly, there's even a tracked named 'The Light and Shade of Things'. And then there's the instantly accessibility of sublime vocal melodies in tracks like 'Seven Stars' and 'The Ghosts of Home' to the more challenging, grower potential of 'From the Rooftops'. There's never the feeling, though, that songs have been written and arranged with contrasting elements just for the sake of diversity; rather, every bar of music has its place in some skilfully crafted compositions. Just take the beautiful melodies Jim Matheos has forged from minimal guitar licks, right from the off, on opener 'From the Rooftops', and the bursts of speedier solo shred on tracks like 'White Flag' (the latter courtesy of Frank Aresti, who also lends his widdling skills to the opening track). Again, it's all about naturally conceived contrasts. And there's so much depth and purpose to the music's progression, rather than the undeniably stagnant and showy Dream Theater school of prog for prog's sake. You'll find no mindless technicality in Fates Warning's music. The band display some fantastic musicianship, both individually and collectively, throughout, but it's always efficacious and purposeful within the context of each composition.
Vocally, the album's surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because the last time I experienced Ray Alder's singing in a live environment was with Redemption a few years back, and he didn't fare too well. I was left with the impression that his vocals had faltered with age, in terms of power and pitch, with the latter suffering at the expense of the former. No such problems here. His voice sounds in great shape on 'Theories of Flight'...so, maybe he was simply having an off-day with Redemption, or perhaps his singing excels more in a controlled studio environment, with the safety net of multiple takes etc. Either way, his vocals sound good here... great, in fact, with some nice raw and natural textures to his delivery. All that said, around the 3:22 mark in 'The Light and Shade of Things', and other sporadic moments on the album, his voice becomes a little more stretched and wavery when he seems to be singing to the limits of his power, which just ends up sounding forced. Such moments are few and far between, fortunately.
There's so much to like about 'Theories of Flight', but that's a corollary of an album with so much depth and assimilated diversity. The instrumentations have been so well layered throughout and, sometimes, with breathtaking results, such as on the sonically textured magnificence of 'Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen'. And proceedings are kept incessantly interesting through songs' unpredictable twists and turns... they even get a bit of a groove going for 'SOS' and 'White Flag'. Bottom line - Fates Warning have succeeded in crafting a free-flowing, living/breathing, organic sounding prog rock/metal record with consistently supreme songcraft. A seminal band and another masterful work... 'nuff said.
THEORIES OF FLIGHT
Review by Mark Holmes
1st July 2016
1) From the Rooftops
2) Seven Stars
4) The Light and Shade of Things
5) White Flag
6) Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen
7) The Ghosts of Home
8) Theories of Flight
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Fates Warning have succeeded in crafting a free-flowing, living/breathing, organic sounding prog rock/metal record with consistently supreme songcraft."