Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fates Warning - Still Life (1998)

Fates Warning is one of the rare US staple metal bands that I sadly never got the opportunity to see in the live setting, and so hearing a live album or watching a video of a performance was never out of the question for me. To be fair, the band did not try to exploit this on their fans, and waited a good 8 albums before issuing this Still Life double-live effort. It was recorded in Germany, in April of 1998, and it sounds fairly tight, with a lot of crowd interaction before and after the songs, but a sound that likely sounds just like the band before they're mixed on a studio album. That being said, you will need a serious streak of masochism to enjoy the actual contents of Still Life...

And this is due to the unfortunate decision to perform the ENTIRETY of the miserable concept album A Pleasant Shade of Gray for the first disc. Yes, because it wasn't painful enough to listen through the first time, you fair concertgoers are now going to sit through nearly an hour of this tripe, which sounds to me as if the band was as bored playing it as I am listening. For fuck's sake, the band could have just played the entirety of Perfect Symmetry or Parallels and been better off, but instead, a dazed stupor. I have listened intently through this material in the hopes that these songs might transfer better to the live arena, and to be fair I like the bass better on this recording. The songs seem to have a minor infusion of energy, but too little to really register on my snore-o-meter. At the very least, this could have been demoted to the 2nd disc in the live package, because the other one blows it to smithereens.

Yes. Suddenly, disc two breathes life into the experience. But it's not just a 'who's who' of your favorite Fates Warning tracks. It actually begins with the 20+ minutes of "The Ivory Gate of Dreams" from the No Exit album. It's a risky move, but it does pay off, because even this epic is packed with energy when compared to the stolid wasteland that is A Pleasant Shade of Gray. The track feels a little more messy than its studio counterpart, in particular Alder's vocals, but it's still impressive and I'd argue that the live version has a lot more vibrancy. Now nearly 80 minutes into the experience, Fates Warning decides to settle into some of their shorter fare. Though I wouldn't call "The Eleventh Hour" short, it's 8+ minutes and the longest track on Parallels, but at least you don't have to get up for a pee and soda in the middle. And it sounds great, as does the following "Point of View", sticking to the same album and offering some much needed respite from the headier, moodier material to come before it.

The band then cycles through "Monument" from the Inside Out album, and "At Fate's Hands" from Perfect Symmetry before the absolute highlight of the whole package: "Prelude to Ruin" from Awaken the Guardian is included! It's a little strange to hear Alder singing it, but he still does a worthy interpretation of John Arch and this really makes me want to hear an entire album written in the band's old school style, fronted by the new singer. If only.... The final track here is "We Only Say Goodbye", which I suppose is only too obvious for a set closer. It's a great song, and no different in the live setting. If you've got the Japanese version of this release, you will also get a decent studio cover of the Scorpions' "In Trance", but it's a little out of place with the live material.

There are so many great tracks Fates Warning have included to make a two-disc live set worth owning, but there is no accounting for taste I guess. Though the second half is exponentially superior to the dull, rambling 'still life' of A Pleasant Shade of Gray, it's not enough to blot that from existence, and not enough to justify a purchase of this at full price. You can't tell me that the tasteful European fans (who LOVE old metal) would have not have appreciated a few more tracks from the first three albums. I mean, come on. "Kyrie Ellison"? "Pirates of the Underground"? The band would have been laid many times over by a representative of every country in the EU (their choice of male or female) had they incorporated such classics. Then again, it is possible they did, and just didn't include them here on the product itself. And that, my friends, is an unacceptable mistake in judgment! Nyar!

Highlights: DISC TWO

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10] (nothing's easy anymore)

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