I can say that the twenty-five years I've waited for this album are worth it. Arch-Matheos is a return of the principal architects of Fates Warning's Awaken the Guardian, what I consider to be the greatest metal album ever. Because of the emotional power of this work, and the fact that I believe art is ultimately judged on its puissance in relaying human emotion, I therefore also consider it to be the greatest art ever, but I'm sure that will amuse many!)
Sympathetic Resonance is a unique masterpiece that is an achingly glorious melding of diverse, intricate ambition (Jim Matheos) and penultimate human emotion and passion (John Arch). The results are a truly unique sound, and yet, unlike Fates Warning's past six CD's, it is still a heavy metal CD at its core, with all the power that implies but none of its limitations. The virtuosity and complexity add to, not diminish, its essential heart and spirit.
The name for the act is curious, because along with Arch and Matheos, guitarist Frank Aresti returns, meaning 60% of the original Fates Warning Awaken the guardian lineup is on this CD. That would be more than enough for most bands to keep the original name of the band (by my math Dream Theater is now 40% of the lineup for their first recording), but when you add to the fact that SR bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek are current members of Fates Warning, you have everyone playing on this album a current or former member of FW, and yet with a different name. Perhaps it's for the best; while Fates Warning once created the greatest music ever, their more recent albums left me completely uninterested.
With the title, just like with `Parallels', they've used a scientific or math concept as a powerful metaphor for the human condition. `Parallels' spun off its lyrical themes from the geometric definition of "parallel": two lines in the same plane which can never touch. That reflected the agonizing disconnection between human beings ("your perception lacks clarity/and my perspective is blinding me" or "we can move each other to tears/but we can't see eye to eye"). By contrast, sympathetic resonance is in some sense the opposite, as objects react to the vibration in others. Perhaps the fact that the members are reunited colors that concept.
It is impossible for me to discuss this album without its emotional backdrop. Twenty-five years ago, flush with my first paychecks from a high school dishwashing job, I was visiting our local record store, my ears ringing with a classmate's praise of Metal Blade bands like Lizzy Borden, and I excitedly plunged into the less-mainstream by picking up Fates Warning's `Awaken the Guardian' on cassette. Opening up the J-card, I was immediately pleased with the well-written lyrics with fantasy imagery and themes. Keep in mind, despite conceptions, this was really a rarity back then, before Rhapsody and their ilk gave us all the high fantasy in lyrics we could ask for. The music at first sounded GOOD, straight forward metal with a good deal of complexity, and a bit of Iron Maiden flavor. However, repeated listens took this album, and its soon acquired predecessor, `the Spectre within', into the realm of the highest art ever. Arch's unique emotive voice and lyrics conveyed the essence of the human heart with more poignancy than any ever felt since. This was emphasized by the number of metal fans who felt the same, perhaps ncomprehensibly subjective attachment and appreciation to this album. And what greater purpose or achievement could art have but to make that connection. Ironic, I suppose, since that contravenes the allegory of Parallels.
But, in somewhat devastating fashion, perhaps an example of the light-that-burns-twice-as-bright phenomenon, the band soon parted ways with John Arch, and while Ray Alder put in some solid albums with the band, it was never the same magic, and my enjoyment of the band steadily grew less and less. Arch essentially disappeared from the music scene, turning up on a Dream Theater demo tape that was eagerly traded, but otherwise disappeared like a metallic J.D. Salinger, while people like me wondered what had happened to the most important singer they had ever heard.
Finally, in 2003, Arch returned, with who else but Matheos (as well as Vera and former (can't get used to that) Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, to put out an amazingly impressive two song EP, `Twist of fate'. In fact, looking back, I wonder how I didn't put more emphasis on the enormity of this release, but perhaps the fact that it was a two-song album (although clocking in at about 25 minutes) just didn't carry the impact, like a short story instead of a novel.
Now, however, it all comes to fulfilment, with the release of `Sympathetic resonance.' The only relatively accurate descriptive comparison is its predecessor. `Twist of fate' had its own truly unique poignancy, growing beyond the more straight-forward metal tenets of `Awaken the guardian', and `Sympathetic resonance' continues that format. The song structure is similar as well, despite having just 6 songs, it clocks in at over 54 minutes, with three tracks that exceed the 10 minute mark. The first three songs, at least so far, are my favorite, but every moment, every word, grows in my heart with repeated listens.
To describe the style, the album is at once the most powerful assertion of heavy metal, with plenty of power in the guitars, the drums, and the ascendant vocals of Arch, but with an immeasurable depth and intricacy, woven acoustic delicacy and intricately layered time signatures. The complexity lacks the digression of some overly proggy metal, and the fact that this is essentially a keyboard free album is all the more impressive. I like the new Dream Theater, but when hearing Jordan Rudess play with gimmicks like a Haken Continuum touchpad, I have no problem determining which I like more.)
Arch's lyrics have not lost anything in the past twenty-five years. They still weave the vision of the human soul into a fascinatingly cathartic mesh of imagery, and while there is a tad less fantasy themes, when he breaks out references to "Exodus" in "Stained glass sky", my soul cries out in glory. It could be seen as just slightly more mature, but not in a way that will disappoint fans of the classic work.
The musicianship is incredible in every facet. Metal veteran Joey Vera indicated that the songs that Matheos wrote were the hardest things he ever had to learn to play. The production is what every band should aspire to, and one element in which this album transcends the original Fates Warning albums in spades. All elements are, clear, crisp, and separated into glorious power. The metallic guitars ringing clear are a sharp, honed razor, while the palm muted crunch is a superlative sussurative roar, and the frequent acoustic passages are the utmost in clear, ringing delicacy.
This is nothing less than a masterpiece, an essential purchase for any fan of metal, music, or great art.