A mere three years after their last album, American prog metal stalwarts Fates Warning are back with Theories of Flight, a hard-hitting and thoroughly enjoyable platter.
Theories of Flight starts off slow and melodic. “From the Rooftops” opens quietly with soft guitar chords and rolling toms. Founder and guitarist extraordinaire Jim Matheos drops a tasteful solo, leading into Ray Alder’s smoky vocals. Things seem subdued and honestly, what are we in for on this album, slow and quiet retirement-era Pink Floyd prog? I sure hope not.
And thankfully, we aren’t. Two minutes into “From the Rooftops,” all mellow pretensions are discarded, and hell breaks loose – a bent out of shape guitar riff leads into Bobby Jarzombek’s double-kick pedaling and we are into Fates Warning at their fastest and most aggressive.
While the whole band turn in stellar performances, Jarzombek’s frenetic drumming leads the way throughout. Whether it is the above-mentioned “From the Rooftops,” the intricate fills in the penultimate epic “The Ghosts of Home,” or any of the tracks in between, he proves himself to be a stellar prog metal drummer, and deserving of more attention.
“The Ghosts of Home” was originally the final track, and title of the album, but when Matheos saw artist Graceann Warn’s painting, the title track, a haunting spoken-word piece interspersed with short solos, was born. The song’s subject is that of most of the record; transience, disconnection, the feeling that one should be somewhere other than where they are now. It is a departure from the rest of the album’s material, but winds up being a great way to close out the proceedings.
It is hard to find a weak spot on Theories of Flight. The band gives us eight stellar cuts, two of which (“The Ghosts of Home” and “The Light and Shade of Things”) are epic tracks clocking in at over ten minutes, while the rest are about five minutes apiece – short for the genre, but there is a lot of progginess packed into each one. Honestly, lead single “Seven Stars” could be the weakest moment on the record, and even that is a worthy song – perhaps simply the most conventional of the lot.
Let’s talk about Ray Alder for a moment. At times over the past few years (on both FWX and Darkness in a Different Light, and with his last couple of Redemption albums) he has sounded a bit tired, his voice straining to hit notes with the power we were once accustomed to. It seemed that, like many singers as they get long in the tooth, Alder may have hit the wall. Not so: this is his best singing in decades. It’s powerful, nuanced, emotional, hitting every note. Wonderful to hear.
Jim Matheos is a master of tone and style, and his work on Theories of Flight is no exception. Matheos also produces this record (the last couple had been produced by bassist Joey Vera), and everything sounds excellent. Guitars are punchy and cut through during the hooks and melodies, and solos sound spectacular. Matheos hasn’t left the rest of the band out to dry in the mix, either. While Vera’s bass isn’t as prominent as it has been on Vera-produced records, it is present and along with the drums lays down a solid foundation for each song.
If you are looking at the metal end of the prog metal spectrum, Theories of Flight is an early contender for album of the year. The record is Fates Warning at their most aggressive, with inspired performances from everyone in the band. Theories of Flight is their best work since Disconnected, and a must-have for all prog metal fans.
(released July 1, 2016 on Inside Out Music)