There are two fairly distinct phases of Fates Warning to note. In the early years, primarily with John Arch on vocals (and ending with 1988's No Exit, the debut of Ray Alder in the band), they created classic, riff-heavy compositions in the vein of melodic speed metal with a dash of Maiden. Starting with Perfect Symmetry, a more mechanical, progressive entity took form. While this latter phase produced some interesting and memorable albums (Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, Inside Out), it is the classic Fate's Warning which I hold most dear. There is something truly atmospheric about their first three albums. 1984's Night On Bröcken was a solid debut with a few catchy pieces, but it's follow-up The Spectre Within is not only the finest album in the band's career...but one of the greatest melodic metal albums ever to emerge from the US of A.
Each of the seven tracks on Spectre creates a bold narrative vision, laden in the mystique of carefully plotted compositions and the haunting keen of John Arch. Outside of the music of Fate's Warning, one might find Arch annoying at best, but within the milieu of old, haunted speed metal landscapes, he shines like a fallen God. "Traveler in Time" creates a panorama of flowing bass and insanely catchy riffing which foreshadows their later, progressive work. The track also features some creepy acoustic segments with amazing vocal lines, bells, drumming, unbelievably awesome. "Orphan Gypsy" is powerful and sad, glistening melodies atop its forceful, circular intro riffing. The speed metal of the verse is amazing, but again, this band wrote riffs like no other, you can alreaady hear the adventurous nature the band would channel for the remainder of its career, even though the enveloping composition is somewhat traditional. The lyrical skill of this band was nearly unparalleled in its day, almost poetic.
Young warrior to the drunken galley slave, running with the wind running wayward knave I'm a vagabond with a maëlstrom mind, my blood has left me behind So go away, leave me alone, if you look in my eyes you see only stone I won't let you in, I can lock you out, in your world, your fallacy, I don't want desolate island debris
Just when you thought you were losing yourself in the high mystique of The Spectre Within, it moors you back to Earth with a pair of pure metal ragers. "Without a Trace" features a lick Iron Maiden only WISHED they came up with, and "Pirates of the Underground" is simply incredible, with a gung ho vibe to its volley of riffs, an almost doom/speed hybrid in its verse. "Apparition" has Arch at his best, the vocal melodies are inescapably memorable, and the riffs plod along with limitless grandeur. "Kyrie Eleison" opens with some chanting and then proceeds to create moody atmospheric doom the likes of many others only dream of conjuring, before the amazing verse riffing picks up speed. The epic length album closer "Epitaph" runs nearly 12 minutes length, and never grows dull. 12 minutes of perfection, from the monolithic doomy intro riff to the flourish of proggish synthesizers in the closing seconds. At this point you know you've been on quite the journey, once the album ends you can return to the world of sunshine.
The Spectre Within has a timeless production, the album has never become dated, except in the technical sense. This is a testament to the superb quality of every second of riffing on the disc. There are no weak tracks, no boring moments, and nothing even bordering on 80s cheese. The album is dark and serious, haunting and morose, with only a smattering of fist pumping metal excitement on "Without a Trace" and "Pirates of the Underground". This is one of the very best releases of classic American metal, and one of the best for Metal Blade/Restless. Yes, despite the rash of trendy modern signings the label has made to stay afloat in this tasteful era, they were once the mightiest label around, with a roster of legends. Fate's Warning is surely one of those legends, and this album represents their finest hour.
Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (defective unit on the street tonight, he hunts the weak and clips its wings)