Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fates Warning - Fates Warning X (2004)

Fates Warning X, i.e. FWX was the 10th and assumedly 'final' album from Fates Warning, after which drummer Mark Zonder decided to part ways with the band. This was very much a wise decision, as the previous two albums were a trainwreck compared to the band's older material and the homefires had long since burnt to their embers. As is so often the case in the fluctuating world of metal music, the band have since reunited for some gigs, and Ray Alder has stated that there was material for another album at some point, but for our purposes, FWX was the end of Fates Warning's output during the 'Oughts, and a good thing, that.

But the blame should not be placed squarely on the shoulders of this work, because to be fair, it's a better record than Disconnected in every way, and light years ahead of A Pleasant Shade of Gray. The band were still in their electronic phase, and FWX is a sleek, modern affair, the best of the Alder/Zonder/Matheos/Vera configuration, loaded with nuance and subtlety. The one real downside to the album is that it simply lacks the truly memorable impact of the many classics in the band's catalog. There is no "Through Different Eyes", "Anarchy Divine", "We Only Say Goodbye" or any other manner of standout track which will rattle about your skull until you let it escape through a bullet hole. It's decent enough for a visit, if you truly care for the latter half of the band's career, but even probably won't want to remain for long.

The sounds of crickets herald the throbbing pulse of "Left Here", with a casual interplay between distorted riffing and acoustics up until its chorus breakdown, where the band revisit a decadent electric beat like "Something from Nothing" on the previous album. The guitar grooves here are forgettable individually, and Vera's bass does little more than plop along like a heartbeat. The song works its way towards a supposed payoff, but unfortunately this is a rather underwhelming chorus segment with Alder repeating himself. "Simple Human" is slightly better, kind of a fixed point between big Filter/Deftones groove guitars and NIN electro breakdowns, with a solid bass line woven below the mire. "River Wide Ocean Deep" is moody and subtly haunting, as the acoustics summon forth a droning distorted guitar and some female wailing, and the pace continues to escalate into another Alder-driven rock segment. Despite the cliche title, "Another Perfect Day" is actually not so bad, a rambling melodic acoustic prog-folk with some sections in which the guitars groove out, but again more of a rock thing. "Heal Me" is another of those long, lamenting tracks like the classic "At Fate's Hands", the exception being that the pick-me-up rock rhythms here sound more like generic modern radio nu-metal tripe than anything of real substance.

The album's latter half commences with the instrumental "Sequence #7", all throbbing bass, sparkling clean guitars and electrode pulses that usher in the big rhythm of "Crawl", which, while simmering in the same modern groove metal that has often spoiled their 21st century efforts, at least maintains a momentum that might have you slowly bobbing your head. "A Handful of Doubt" is another softy, but if you enjoyed the band's balladry on Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, or Inside Out, there's not much to complain about. "Stranger (With a Familiar Face)" does break into a half-assed Zeppelin/Hendrix rock and roll, which picks up into an even more uptempo segment, but otherwise its tribal pandering is lost upon me, and the drippy, percussive clean guitars and piano of "Wish" build a bridge and simply fail to properly plunge from it.

Production-wise, the album is loud and stunning, with each subtle atmospheric element resonant in the mix. It sounds so great that you almost forget that the songs themselves are not. If only they were to record another album like No Exit at this level of studio savvy! Alas, that's unlikely to happen. But I must give credit that Fates Warning X at least does not leave a bitter, stale taste in my mouth like its two closest siblings, and if you favor heavy progressive rock with a mainstream friendly face, you can probably do worse.

Highlights: River Wide Ocean Deep, Another Perfect Day, Crawl

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (I never asked for this)

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