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Fates Warning - A Pleasant Shade Of Gray CD (album) cover


Fates Warning


Progressive Metal

4.16 | 447 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "A Pleasant Shade of Grey" is the album that started the one-guitar era in Fates Warning's career. The physical factor of having only one guitarist in the fold (Matheos) gave way to a significant presence of keyboard parts, which are handled by longtime friend and DT alumnus Kevin Moore: he performs as a guest, not coming to the fore to display a tour-de-force, but keeping a more subtle role as a builder of ambience with lots of layers, orchestrations and harmonies. At this point, FW starts to sound more progressive than ever before, keeping the metal aspect of their music more restrained, not null, but just less explosive than their previous albums. I would even add that FW never sounded as varied as they do here: besides the symphonic stuff, there are also hints of industrial resources and some occasional neo-prog melodic drive. The one- guitar factor also translated into major room for maneuver in the rhythm section, in this way allowing drummer Mark Zonder to punctuate his jazz leanings and be more featured in the mix: guest bassist Joey Vera's performance functions as the perfect bridge between Matheos and Zonder. Matheos' clear reservations toward self-indulgent pyrotechnics are well reflected in the guitar parts of this album, which are mostly riffs, harmonies and interplaying counterpoints with many keyboard parts. All this sonic landscape serves jointly as the perfect scenario for Alder's emotional vocal delivery: the sparse and elusive lyrics are given an extra passionate dimension by Alder, sometimes by emphasizing particular syllables, some other times by going with the instrumental flow, and other times by keeping a melodic line clearly and confidently. Such display of exquisiteness makes "A Pleasant Shade of Grey" my fave FW album so far. This was originally conceived as one single piece of music, focused thematically on the inner self's emotional world, but alas the recording company pressures led Matheos to divide it into 12 sections. He didn't even bother to give each section an autonomous name, so that the listener wouldn't be distracted from the essential unity of the piece. In fact, this unity is preserved by the well ordained recurrence of some motifs and verses. Let me check some of the repertoire now: Parts II, III and XI are the most metallic ones, while the prototypical prog sophistication is beautifully conducted in Parts VI, VII, VIII (special mention to the amazing acoustic guitar/piano closing duet) and XII (brilliant closure!). Concerning the latter sections, there is a predominant presence of eerie, reflective overtones in both lyrics and melodic schemes: in this way, they serve as energizers of the rawer emotions delivered in the former sections, and so, the idea of thematic unity for the whole album is emphasized. Parts V and IX are both moving ballads, full of genuine romanticism and sheer vulnerability. Some may miss the musical power of the two-guitar albums, but the way I feel it, "A Pleasant Shade of Grey" presents a renewed power that doesn't need to rely on pyrotechnics in order to elevate the listener up to a fiery plateau of passionate and intelligent music. Overall balance: a masterpiece of metal prog, as well as one of the most brilliant concept-albums of the 90s.
Cesar Inca | 5/5 |


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