Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fates Warning - Disconnected (2000)

There is something so safe and stagnant about all of Fates Warning's work beyond the 80s that I often wonder just where the magic went. Clearly, the band was once one for intricate melodies, powerful vocals and captivating lyrics and subject matter, but Fates Warning 2K (which started arguably with the abysmal 1997 album A Pleasant Shade of Gray) is a modernized, forgettable creature that no longer hangs at the edge of brilliance, but languors in confusion and mediocrity. Disconnected is the band's 9th album, and though the cover image makes for an amusing portrait, much of the music is quite uninspired, reduced to plodding, groove metal rhythms, and the lyrics have grown so vague that they seem the sort that any bland radio pop band would write, the lowest common denominator of progressive rock or metal. Even with all these issues, though, Disconnected is a superior beast to A Pleasant Shade of Gray, for at least a handful of decent riffs exist here.

Like its predecessor, Disconnected is a conceptual piece. It's not some head-trip, just another album about life and society, so most should be able to relate to it. What is interesting is that the band refrains some of the material on the album, almost as if it were once cycle that begins and ends in largely the same, dull pallor. This is manifested by the two parts of "Disconnected" which wrap the album like a soggy turkey sandwich. The first barely exceeds a minute's length, but the closing track is over six, and they involve samples, subtle washes of piano, and a similar use of electronic pulses and percussion as the synths swell alongside the central, solitary electric guitar bend. The extended track is the better of these, simply for its ability to take a breath and get the listener more deeply involved in its structure, which is the most unique thing on the album.

Between these poles are the other five tracks of the album, which all feature vocals and make up the 'meat' of the concept, and herein lie most of the weaknesses. "One" is a groovy rock track with an extremely dull focal riff, which leads me to believe some influence might have crossed over to Fates Warning from Alder's other project Engine (who are, sadly, better than this). The riffing is totally pedestrian here, and no amount of Zonder's percussive depth can repair this, not even Alder as he hits a Chris Cornell-like howl at about 2:45. "So" begins with some stark electronics that are actually quite cool, if brief, before a steady, pumping guitar rhythm (complete with gimmick squeal) arrives to herald in a mire of bluesy boredom, not necessarily due to Alder's soulful tones, but the fact that there is simply NO music of value to accompany them. Seriously, the riffs here wouldn't be suitable for a Puddle of Mudd track, so why bother? "Pieces of Me" is not much better, as its basically a techno metal track with riffing worse than some of KMFDM's middling rhythms, and the big Engine-groove of the chorus is awful, as Alder intones the title repeatedly.

The two longer tracks "Something from Nothing" and "Still Remains" are far from perfect, but seem like a major improvement over the rest of the album. The former transforms from a moody ambient clime into an electro sequence of rumbling synthesizers and distorted drum beat, later to evolve into a Tool-like guitar rhythm, and some of the more convincing vocals on the album. It's not great, and in fact there is almost no intricacy to the writing whatsoever, but as a whole it at least takes you somewhere you might wish to travel. "Still Remains" is over 16 minutes in length, so of anything on the album, it bears the brunt of the responsibility to involve the listener. I did enjoy the opening moments, with acoustics that flowed like water, drifting, distorted vocals, and some nice somber synth lines that build the mood, and after that it goes outright prog, with keyboards slicing through the jamming rhythms and a sense of alien expression that had me wanting to break out my Chick Corea and Yes records. But like so many parts of the song, it arrives and departs in short order, attempting to reign one in with its constantly shifting landscape, and the downside to this is the amount of pretty dull groove metal rhythms that populate it. Despite its flaws, it remains one of the best songs here, and the closing moments do feature some soaring guitar lines.

The title is perhaps so very accurate as to where the band were at musically, for it seems some tether to their glory days has clearly been severed to the point of no return. Fates Warning still have a few thrills tucked away into the 51+ minutes of Disconnected, and I felt no immediate impulse to chuck the CD out the window to the nearest landfill as I did with the last album, but in even if I put on my rose-tinted goggles and think of this as a pleasant experiment, it's still no more than a mundane footnote to a band that once reigned over the filthy state of Connecticut (never met someone from that state who did not screw me over in some way, so pardon my terminal case of state-ism).

Highlights: Disconnected (Part II), Something from Nothing, Still Remains

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
(when the voice is gone)

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