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2011 album from this Progressive Rock band featuring Fates Warning/OSI guitarist Jim Matheos and former Fates Warning vocalist John Arch. Cover art for Sympathetic Resonance was fashioned using an image created by light painting photographer Dennis Calvert, who has described light painting as "The ability to see in four dimensions, time traveling, and creating fantasy using only what we base all reality on, light."
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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.
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.
Jim's arrangements continue to astound. His mind for systematic chord progressions is without a challenger in today's music. As progressive metal writing goes, Jim is (and always has been) the real deal and continues to impress. The arrangements throughout the record (I know...old school) brings me back to the 1st time I heard Night on Bröcken. Overwhelmed to say the least. Great stuff....
Don't forget the support of Joey Vera, Bobby Jarzombek and Frank Aresti. Each has used their amazing talents to not only support the record, but to take it to a high level. Frank's guitar work is nothing short of brilliant.
Sit in a dark room with the BEST headphones you can find and crack up Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me). If it doesn't change your life in what you should come to expect from your music, then pack it in, you're already dead.
If you are either a fan of Old school Arch-era Fates Warning or Contemporary Fates Warning this album is for you. Each track blends a heavy intensity with melodically beautiful sections. John Arch's voice is in excellent shape and he sounds just as good as he did in his prime. Its heavy in places, but then slows down and lets things build up again. All 6 tracks are excellent, blending together heavy parts, progressive parts and slower, more mellow sections. The best way to describe this album is that is sounds like a top-level Fates Warning album, and if you are reading this (you probably are familiar with Fates) so I must say this is a must have for FW fans. There's nothing really more to say then this is really quite an amazing piece of Prog Metal, and describing it in words doesn't really doesn't do it justice. You must hear it for yourself.
All eyes may be on Dream Theater at the moment, but don't overlook this album.
This album is amazing. We get the more modern guitar sound of prog master Jim Matheos with some killer shreds tossed in via Frank Aresti. Joey Vera, Fates Warning mainstay bass man, provides the rhythm. I wish I could say more about the drumming but I am not familiar with the drummer. That said, the drumming is great and fits right into the album.
Now, I don't know what Arch has been up to the last few years - his EP was great, but he has come back with a vengeance. His vocals soar and are guaranteed to send chills.
The album runs over 50 minutes and features 5 songs. But they really do pick up where the Twist of Fate EP left off. There are several 10+ minute songs and one that pushes 14 minutes.
Don't hesitate to Get This Album.