|Review: Fates Warning - Parallels|
Label: Metal Blade Records
Year released: 1991
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: November 27, 2019
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Fates Warning hardly need any introduction from me. From their early days of mystical, Maiden-esque Progressive Power Metal to their dryer, more blatantly prog mid-period works, they stand as one of the most influential and important bands in the genre. Of course, it was in that latter period where many took exception to them cleaning up their sound and decried many of the albums released at the time as sellout records. Hindsight has given many of these works the recognition that they deserve, but this album tends to keep that old stigma around it. So, with this review and my sad delusion that someone will read it, I'm going to rectify that here and now by not only calling Parallels the best album from that era, but also among the best Metal albums ever made.
The biggest complaint I hear about this album is that it's too simple and commercial to be good, but I'm going to call bullshit on that. True, this is even more streamlined than Perfect Symmetry, with fewer blatantly prog impulses and far more accessible melodies, but Jim Matheos has always written music that's far more intricate and detailed than it first appears, and this album may well be the apotheosis of that songwriting ethic.
This would mean little if the performances were lacking, but that's as far from the case as you can get here. Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti lead the proceedings with shimmering, emotional guitar licks whose harmonic interplay is as intricate as it is subtle. Joe DiBiase's bass work adds a significant amount of texture to the album, and Mark Zonder still amazes with his technical and nearly unpredictable drumming whose eye-popping complexity is only enhanced by the ease with which he pulls it off. The real star of the show, however, is Ray Alder, who gives the performance of his career and lays down one of Metal's all-time best vocal turns as he goes from quiet, affecting croons to soaring, all-powerful wails on a dime. This is all complemented by the excellent production job from well-known Rush producer Terry Brown, whose dry, crystal-clear style lets all the top-notch musicianship on display shine through.
These performances would go to waste if the songwriting was weak, but some of the very best songs Fates Warning ever wrote can be found on here. "Leave the Past Behind" is the perfect opener to this album, starting with a quiet opening before building to a dazzling interplay between Matheos and Aresti and Mark going nuts behind the drum kit. Other highlights include the searing "Life in Still Water", the heartbreaking "We Only Say Goodbye", and the album highlight "The Eleventh Hour", a towering, emotional epic that stands with "Guardian" and "Stained Glass Sky" as one of the best damn songs Matheos ever wrote. But really, every song is phenomenal in its own way, each one being a masterful display of smooth, catchy songwriting whose complexity always adds to it rather than distract.
This is absolutely one of Fates Warning's finest hours, and anyone who claims it's simplistic and commercial isn't listening closely enough. I'd go as far as to say this every bit the masterwork Awaken the Guardian is in an entirely different way. Even now when I listen to it, I find myself picking up on some little flourish or detail I missed and smile to myself over how much can be done in music without it being evident for so long. This may never appeal to die-hard fans of their older works, but in terms of creating Progressive Metal that has the restraint to be welcoming and the intelligence to be engaging, this stands alone. Marvelous.
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