This album sees past and present Fates Warning members coming together to write some of the finest examples of progressive metal with top-notch performance and production.
Spinning on an axis of unique vocals and dark guitar passages, Sympathetic Resonance is the first album to feature John Arch behind the mic since his 2003 EP, A Twist of Fate. Again written by guitarist Jim Matheos and vocalist John Arch, the album contains six tracks, three of which break the ten-minute mark. Though this was originally supposed to be a Fates Warning album, the duo ultimately decided against it, and rightly so. The compositions are dark, complex, and *very* heavy. None of the Alder-era albums is as heavy as this disc (though they are all fantastic in their own right). By heavy, I am strictly referring to the overall atmosphere captured on the album rather than Meshuggah-like guitar riffs or blindingly fast solos. As a matter of fact, solos are kept to a minimum, and only inserted to deepen the already complex pieces. The extended instrumental parts are often embedded as a break in the songs for added tension. That is one reason why the relatively midtempo "Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)" achieves its full potential. After a mesmerizing opening riff, the band moves into an improvised jazz passage with beautifully accented drum and bass work followed by clean acoustic guitars over which Arch lays down his hypnotizing vocals. By the time the solo kicks in, you already have goose bumps and the lead work only prolongs the experience.
Despite not being musically active for over two decades, it is amazing to see John Arch still being the best singer in this style of singing. There are numerous vocalists who can sing in a very high register, but no one can sing as high AND melodically as Arch. He exploits his talents to the max on this album, from soaring vocal parts to unusually complex harmonies (influencing a plethora of singers like Oyvind Haegeland from Spiral Architect) to soul-wrenching mid registers. His vocal lines are unique, and anyone who tries to imitate him is bound to fail. Not only does he employ his trademark screams, but he also constantly builds tension over the notes, making you pay attention to the lyrics.
The band's approach to composition is to be commended as well. I absolutely love the use of a gradually building rhythmic motif based on a complex pulse over which swirling melodies are played. Drummer Bobby Jarzombek puts in a career-defining performance here: besides his use of polyrhythm and great drum tone, it is his fills that totally define and direct the compositions. His drums come in rolling to the mix on "Neurotically Wired" where he sometimes accents three lines at the same time! His splashing cymbal work lends "On the Fence" a live recording vibe. The band's keen sense of improvisation adheres to the principle of each member listening to each other rather than giving solo performances. They all feed off each other, keeping it a strictly group affair and making creative decisions based on what the bass, drums, and guitars play.
There is no effort to avoid using the juxtaposition of dissonance and ascending notes, which weave in and out of the middle part of "Stained Glass Sky" (whose first verses are taken from Fates Warning's "Exodus" off of their Awaken the Guardian album in order to bridge the two bands) while still retaining their rhythmic intensity. The song deploys intense textural colours, angular melodies, jagged riffing, and stirring atmosphere. Special care is given to polyrhythmic synchronization where every instrument is allowed to shine, and it all resolves itself with the rearrangement of the initial motif.
This is the best debut of 2011, and it is unlikely it will be surpassed. Phil Magnotti is quickly becoming a favourite of mine, as his mix is nothing short of spectacular. I wish the mastering wasn't so loud, though (think OSI's Blood). Explore one of the greatest bands out there.