Often compared to their peers Dream Theater,Fates Warning lack the tremendous succes and fan appeal of the latter,yet they are a much more genuine progressive-metal band:Ray Alder is a great vocalist(no matter the setting,studio or live),while the band as a whole create a sound that is much more alive than that of Dream Theater’s -the overall effect is that of a band TRULY creating progressive music,as opposed to that of good musicians playing at the genre.This album is a stunning masterpiece:in a better world Fates Warning Would have achieved the status they deserve.
The glory days of the great power trios are faithfully re-visited as Inside Out Music proudly submits the sophomore release by the mighty Jelly Jam. Jelly Jam features the almost other-worldly musical talents of Ty Tabor (King’s X) on guitar and lead-vocals, John Myung (Dream Theater) on bass, and Rod Morgenstein (The Dixie Dregs) on Drums. The (power) trio format gives these uniquely gifted musicians the freedom and space to stretch out and really show what they’re capable of doing, but never at the expense of their listeners. Huge and catchy guitar riffs are driven by a thunderously, tight rhythm section within song structures that swing from surgical precision to free-form instrumental jams. Ty’s vocal skills and knack for melody are also on display in abundance. The Jelly Jam will be playing showcase dates in support of the release (details TBD) This release will have direct appeal to the formidable fan bases of Dream Theater and King’s X.
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The band. The album. The song. This cd has it all. This is, in my mind, clearly the most perfect piece of music ever created. From the wonderfully unsettling first chord, this masterpiece descends through all depths of human emotion. Jim Matheos (guitarist, lyricist, songwriter) writes deep, thought provoking lyrics the likes of which are to be found nowhere else. The vocals are perfect. Ray Alder delivers a spectacular performance. While very skilled, trained, and able, Ray does not stick to the traditional operatic vocals featured by James LaBrie of Dream Theater. Ray has a wonderful style, able to use vibrato profusely and sparsely, depending on the situation. The vocal melodies on APSOG are some of the best ever written in my opinion. The drumming is by the amazing Mark Zonder. Wow! Apparently Mr. Zonder’s middle name is “Tasteful Yet Technical”… the drumming on APSOG ranges from minimalistic and quirky to intense and technical. However, Zonder is never in poor taste. Beautiful cymbal work and blazing fills are just part of why Mark Zonder is, in my opinion, progressive music’s finest drummer. The guitar parts range from syncopated rythm cords to beautiful acoustic solo pieces. If you are looking for a deep, introspective and thoughtful album, this is THE cd for you. If you are just getting into Fates Warning or progressive metal, this is THE cd for you. Clocking in at 53 minutes, “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray” is one continuous epic masterpiece written by virtuoso Jim Matheos… an awe inspiring and tremendously emotional piece. Rating: 100% – PERFECT –mark–
A Pleasant Shade of Gray is a masterful album that brings out the best in progressive metal. It is essentially one long song, broken into 12 parts for ease of navigation. It’s not really a concept album, because the lyrics are not really a concept per se, but rather seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrical diety. This album stunned me. It is nothing like any of Fates Warning’s previous works, and it is in my opinion their best. Guitarist Jim Matheos outdoes himself here, not only in his fine riffing and soloing, but in his compositional skills. For one man to write all the music and lyrics in this masterpiece is an achievement unparalled in the genre. Matheos is not the only standout, however. Of course we have the legendary singing and drumming of Ray Alder and Mark Zonder respectively, as well as powerhouse ex-Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera. But the real surprise on this album is the performance of ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. Listening to Moore’s seamless integration into the sound of Fates Warning makes you swear that the band has had a keyboardist all along, when in fact they have only used one (usually Moore) on a few songs here and there. His presence makes up for the loss of second guitarist Frank Aresti who left the band in 1996 after 10 years of service. Conclusion: Jim Matheos is a genius and this album is a must-own.
I’m not reviewing this as a Fates Warning fan because this is my first real exposure to this band, so I’m not sure how it compares to their other work. Someone mentioned this album in a conversation, describing it as a single 55 minute song. Naturally, with my intrinsic ardor for long songs, I ordered this album. To say I was impressed would be a gross understatement.I must admit this album took some time to hook me. It’s not very accessible, being slow and heavy, with a despondent mood. On about the third listen, I was beginning to pick up on the musical ingenuity and the unity of the album. By the fifth listen, I was fully entranced by the dark tone, the melancholy lyrics, and the superb atmosphere created by the musicians. Some listeners might be deterred by its inaccessibility. Cynical — and unlucky — listeners will dismiss the album as a slow, boring plod through hackneyed conventions of progressive metal.But those who give it a chance will be satisfied. The album plays out like a mysterious dreamscape and a constant stream of thoughts, with intermittent themes and recurring lyrical ideas. It pushes the listener into a hazy state of mind and takes to you on a 55 minute journey that runs through the gamut of emotions, thanks to the emotive vocalist Ray Alder and the atmospheric keyboards of Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater). The guitars also make quite an impression; gone are conventional solos and long-winded instrumental sections that are staple elements in progmetal, replaced by mellifluous and concise passages that supplement the feelings in the music. The result is a trance-inducing musical excursion that makes you think *and* feel. An excellent album, one of the few that taps the true spirit of music.
Progressive metal…the term has a fair share of connotations. What does it really mean? I believe “progressive” music is that which is original and ambitious, pushing the traditional limits set by genres. It forges its own path of artistic discovery, defying trends and refusing to rest on its laurels. Dream Theater and Tool are both progressive metal bands, but they are musically very different. With A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Fates Warning carves its own little niche in the progressive metal world. As far as progressive metal goes, this is one of the most absorbing, original, and experimental albums in the genre.Since Awaken the Guardian, Fates Warning has been known as one of the more sophisticated metal bands in the business. Still, their progressive touches were just that — touches. Never before have they so fully embraced their progressive side. A Pleasant Shade of Gray seems to me to be the culmination of the band’s career, combining the best of their melodic awareness, emotion, and creativity with stirring new musical directions. This album sounds little like the band’s previous work. If you see the back of the CD case, you may think it’s unusual that there is no track listing. That is because A Pleasant Shade of Gray consists entirely of its title track, a 55-minute progressive opus. It is divided into 12 parts so that it is easy navigate, but these tracks have no individual names themselves. It does not to me seem to be a concept album…more of a dream, really. It seems to be a constant stream of thoughts about love, loss, and sadness, brought to an end but the sudden ringing of an alarm clock in the album’s final seconds. Jim Matheos’ lyrics are usually simple, but very poetic and expressive. Aside from the complex, textured production, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the addition of keyboardist Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater). His role is critical on this album, because this song/album relies so heavily on subtlety, mood, and texture. A Pleasant Shade of Gray is almost uniformly slow and heavy, so don’t expect an adrenaline rush like Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory. Only occasionally does it speed up, as on Parts V and XI, and briefly on Part VIII. The album is characterized by despondency and sadness, lucidly reflected in the lyrics and the music. While this is artistically interesting, it does initially make the album feel boring and ponderously slow. There are no hooks to speak of…nothing that leaps out at you. This album requires an intuitive and patient listener. After several listens, a listener will begin to detect repeated themes, such as the shared chorus of Parts V and VII, the repeated piano melody of Part VII and VIII, and many more. These qualities tie the album together and effectively lend credence to its assertion of being “one big song.”A Pleasant Shade of Gray is really a study in subtlety and emotion. While you expect most progressive metal bands to make you dizzy with their technical skills, Fates Warning resigns themselves to using their admirable skill to create beautiful atmosphere and emotion rather than pretense. Mark Zonder’s crisp cymbals lend delicious nuance rather than fiery octopus drumming (although he’s still a killer musician). Jim Matheos plays only two guitar solos on this disc (Parts VI and IX), but they’re both gorgeous. Rather than shred-fests, they are slow and emotionally charged. Vocalist Ray Alder is stunning, singing comfortably inside his range and conveying more emotion than on any previous Fates Warning album! His singing style is similar to Geoff Tate, and he’s just as emotionally powerful. Nowhere is this more evident than on Part IX, which would be a simply stunning ballad if taken on its own. In context with the rest of the album, it is so much more powerful. Kevin Moore doesn’t play any leads or fancy stuff, but his contribution is stunning. His keyboards are a huge part of what creates the music’s icy tone. The piano/acoustic guitar interplay on Part VIII is beautiful beyond words.I recommend listening to A Pleasant Shade of Gray through a good set of headphones. Otherwise, you might find it just blending into the background. The production is very intricate and full of subtleties that may not be detected unless the music is sent directly into your ears. This way, you can hear the album’s wealth of nuance — the layers of chilling synths, the subtle electronica textures, the quieter chords, the faint hiss of a cymbal, and so on. All these ingredients make me marvel at Jim Matheos’ compositional ingenuity.Those lacking patience and expecting a thrill-a-second musical explosion will be disappointed. Those with an appreciation for creativity and emotional, heavy, and atmospheric progressive music should enjoy this release. Or maybe not. But I know I like it, and it’s unfortunate that so many people pass it up.