Album Review – Fates Warning – “A Pleasant Shade of Gray”

September 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Fates Warning – “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” (1997)

“Apart from ‘Parallels’ and ‘Inside Out,’ all of our records have sounded different,” said Jim Matheos of Fates Warning, the band’s only constant member.

As part of that effort to always be crafting something different, prog-metal pioneers Fates Warning entered Carriage House Studios in Stamford, CT to find an alternative to the bright, melodic hits like “Eye to Eye” that they had made previously in the 1990s.

The result was one very long song split into 12 parts, with a moodier vibe to it as shown by the title: “A Pleasant Shade of Gray.” There were no song titles, just “Parts 1–12,” and it came as a surprise to the new fans they had acquired (who were used to the more mainstream sound of ‘Parallels’ and ‘Inside Out’).

If that sounds like a challenging listen, it doesn’t have to be; although “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” is best enjoyed in full, the song does contain its own “hits” within it for patient fans to pick up on. Parts 3,4,7, and 9 all stand out beautifully on their own, and their seamless integration with the other 8 makes “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” a real gem.

1. Part 1

2. Part 2

3. Part 3

4. Part 4

5. Part 5

6. Part 6

7. Part 7

8. Part 8

9. Part 9

10. Part 10

11. Part 11

12. Part 12

One of the catalysts for the change in direction around this time was the recruitment of keyboardist and arranger Kevin Moore, who had recently left Dream Theater. His knack for composition was a boon for the band, and his classical training comes through in Part 8 especially, which morph sinto a slo piano piece. Moore also added some of the electronic thuds and flourishes that provide depth to the record and a soundtrack feel.

It would be the soundtrack to a rather sad movie, of course, but the impressive performances all around keep it bright. Drummer Mark Zonder has a rhythmic performance of stunning complexity in Part 5, and Ray Alder de-emphasizes his ultra-high-pitched wail in favor of plaintive harmonies (on Part 4 and 9, the latter with an empty-bedroom acoustic arrangement).

As a concept album, “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” is open to interpretation, but what can definitely be said is that it involves two characters who have had a troubled, painful past with each other. They could be lovers, friends, siblings–who knows? Both are struggling with a very “gray” experience, unable to leave the past behind (as another Fates Warning song said). Despite whatever happened between them, the question, “What do we do today?”is prompted both in Part 1 and reoccurring throughout the record. Ultimately though, we’re unable to change the past, and we’re given to understand that it’s “what we do today” that counts–in this case, stepping forward together to embrace a new day.

Upon initial release, “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” garnered mixed reviews, but over time its reputation has improved, and it has been performed live straight through (notably on the “Still Life” live album). Though the praise is a bit late in forthcoming, it is still well-deserved.

Ray Alder

Jim Matheos

Joey Vera

Kevin Moore

Mark Zonder

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