It was 1986. I picked up an album that would become an all-time favorite simply because of the cool cover. The album was Awaken the Guardian. The band was Fates Warning. The songs were long and involved, with verbose lyrics; singer John Arch seemed to trip over words. And that voice: it was an instrument far removed from the usual metal singer. His high notes were higher and he ran through lyrics at a brisk pace. Together with guitarist Jim Matheos, Arch crafted some of the cornerstone classics of progressive metal.
After Arch left Fates Warning (and music) in 1987, the band added singer Ray Alder and continued forward releasing powerful prog metal epics. A few years ago, Arch resurfaced with an EP, but it took until 2011 for him to team back with Jim Matheos for their first full-length collaboration in 25 years, Sympathetic Resonance.
This is essential a Fates Warning record. Legally they couldn’t call it that, opting for the Arch/Matheos moniker. Matheos and Arch are joined by longtime Fates guitarist Frank Aresti, bassist Joey Vera, and drummer Bobby Jarzombek. Like any Fates record, Matheos writes all the music, and Arch comes in to add his unique lyrical style, which is well suited to his vocals. Aresti’s guitar work is, as always, the essential anchor for the band. Jarzombek’s drumming is a true surprise. I haven’t been that familiar with his work, but his drumming is astounding. Jarzombek shows he’s as equally agile and powerful a drummer.
The songs are thick and dense. There are small snippets of hooks and melodies that wind through a maelstrom of guitar overlays and drums. What’s interesting is how the guitars work with textural elements rather than a lot of long windy solos. There is some interesting use of the song structure to convey real atmosphere, giving the songs an emotional aspect to complement the technical proficiency. The songs demand that you listen and pay attention, and slowly reveal the nuances and hooks that are intertwined through every piece in the record. With that, the production has risen to the challenge. The clarity of the instruments are especially gratifying in this age of hot tracking and the seemingly single-sound that 99% of heavy bands share with regards to production.
“Midnight Serenade” is the immediate standout track. It’s a fairly straightforward song temp and time-wise, but it’s so well-written. Arch’s vocal stylings are in full force. He really tampers down on the stratospheric falsettos he used so often in the early Fates records. With that, he is able to concentrate on marrying his unique vocal sound to interesting hooks and melody changes throughout the song, and into a particularly strong chorus. It’s easily one of my favorite songs of the year.
“Stained Glass Sky” cribs lyrics from Fates’ magnum opus “Exodus.” And Arch brings them to life again, perfectly in sync with Matheos and Aresti’s’ searing guitar work. Clocking in at over 13 minutes, the first part of the song is a prog metal dream, constant chords changes and tempo breaks. “On the Fence,” “Neurotically Wired,” and the exceptional “Any Given Day” round out the record. Resonance closes with “Incense and Myrrh,” again showing the more controlled, softer side of Arch’s voice, before the songs crashes into a sonic crescendo.
Sympathetic Resonance is not only the welcome return of Arch, but the best music Matheos has written in a very long time. It’s simply an amazing record, and a showcase for some of the most talented and unheralded musicians in metal.