By Craig Haze
Although vocalist John Arch exited Fates Warning in the late ’80s there has always been a core of fans whose adoration for the band’s original vocalist has remained undiminished. I admit to being in that camp. I’m old enough to have bought a copy of Awaken the Guardian when it was first released and it remains one of my favourite albums from their catalogue. The band of course moved on from the loss of Arch quickly, and the Ray Adler fronted incarnation produced some excellent albums and went on to great success and much critical acclaim. Still, as great as those albums were, the announcement that Jim Matheos and John Arch were working together again on a new full-length was greeted with rapturous cheers among the prog-metal set.
Sympathetic Resonance features Arch and rest of Fates Warning’s current line-up—minus Ray Adler obviously, who passed on the offer to record this set of tunes—and the resulting album is an exceptional example of contemporary progressive metal. The new release features everything you’d expect from such a high calibre outfit: stylish, prolonged instrumental passages, masses of rapidly changing time signatures, multifaceted riffs, along with thundering percussion and technicality galore. All that and Arch’s distinct falsetto tones—it’s hard-rockin’ prog heaven. Although, if you’re not a fan of histrionic epics then I admit that Sympathetic Resonance is likely to test your patience rather quickly.
If you’re familiar with any of Fates Warning’s previous work then you’ll be aware of the compositional flair the band are famed for, but Sympathetic Resonance has one distinctive difference—it’s got a lot more grunt. You might be thinking that Arch’s return would add a little wistful nostalgia, but that’s certainly not the case. This is a forward-thinking album and the band lay on the heavy riffs thick and fast.
Opening with the eleven-minute “Neurotically Wired”, the band don’t hold back for a second, stacking the song with all manner of warping dynamics that highlight all the members’ requisite musical skills. “Stained Glass Sky”, the heaviest track on the album, also reveals the outstanding virtuosity of the band, with Mathoes’ mind-bending solos bouncing off sheet-metal riffs and some hefty drumming.
The entire album is filled with jaw-dropping moments of guitar athletics—”Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)” has a great stop-start propulsive beginning before it transforms into a rampaging beast—and Arch’s vocals complement the elaborate musical landscape perfectly. His voice hasn’t lost an ounce of its authority, and he is still able to put plenty of honeyed soul into the mix where necessary, such as on the power-ballad “Incense and Myrrh”.
Sympathetic Resonance might only contain six new tracks, but every one of them is superb. I know I’m not the first one to say this, but if you were contemplating investing in some progressive metal and you were reaching for the new Dream Theater release—stop right now. Arch/Matheos is infinitely more creative and a hell of a lot more satisfying. Who knows what will become of the band, but I sincerely hope that they record again because Sympathetic Resonance is an outstanding success on every level.