Fates Warning – Theories of Flight (2016)
It was fortunate indeed that prog metal fans like me didn’t have to wait another nine years for the next Fates Warning album.
Like the entire record, opening cut “From the Rooftops” has all the ingredients I admire most about Fates Warning’s approach to the subgenre. It starts out sounding like a Bond theme; I can even picture the curling smoke and opening film credits. It morphs into tight interplay between the rhythmic chugging and drummer Bobby Jarzombek’s expert hi-hat work. Always a delight to listen to, always complimenting the other music, Jarzombek is the ultra-precise, unsung hero of Theories of Flight.
The song also has the melodic mid-range chorus by Ray Alder, and a trademark Frank Aresti guitar solo. It is the perfect, seven-minute middle ground between the more compressed, chorus-centric tracks on Theories of Flight (like “Seven Stars”) and the extended suites (like “The Ghosts of Home”).
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
Fates Warning displays its mellow, reflective tendencies as well as its thrash metal roots throughout this flight. Though the latter mode has its strong moments here, overall to my ears I give the edge to the band’s softer dealings.
Exhibit A is the serene intro to “The Light and Shade of Things,” with precise touch playing, light pinch harmonics and blues-like phrasing by Jim Matheos. The instrumental title track too, has an outro with a similar vibe. I almost wish these moments were extended even further. It took me right back to the intimate atmosphere of the Studio at Webster Hall where I first saw Fates Warning play live in New York City.
Not to say they can’t enter high-caliber thrash mode anymore, as demonstrated by “Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen” and the survivor anthem “White Flag” (Don’t carry it, bury it!).
Tied with “From the Rooftops” for my favorite track is “The Ghosts of Home,” a bright but also haunting trip down memory lane. Ray Alder’s vocals here are theatrical and heartfelt, and the midsection is the audio equivalent of clouds breaking. Though he sticks to a comfortable voice range throughout Theories of Flight, I think Alder would be perfectly justified in reaching even higher for this emotionally powerful part. Beautifully constructed: “As the lights fade and the road behind you grows…”
A few weeks after Theories of Flight came out, I played a few cuts from it for my dad, who is a big fan of traditional prog rock, especially Nektar. As he clearly enjoyed Fates Warning’s music with his eyes closed, at some point dad opened them and told me, “I think this guitar playing and instrumentation is what Roye Albrighton [RIP] was looking toward. He’d be very proud.”
Professional and dignified, Theories of Flight met all my expectations. Well done Fates Warning, from two appreciative musicians to several others!
Written by Matt P