Throughout the years (dating back to the late 80s) Ray Alder has brought endless joy to fans of progressive music in Fates Warning, Redemption, his work as a guest vocalist with Dream Theater, Mirrormaze and many more. To call something musically “progressive” implies two things. First, it implies that the music produced defies simple categorization. Second, and probably most importantly, it implies that the musicians involved are talented. Not just regular person talented but so talented that their talents transcend the confines of a single genre and often transcend the confines of their instrument.
To say that the album is bass heavy would be an understatement. Pleasantly high in the mix both Mike and Tony handle bass duties across the album. Even on some of the heavier tracks, as the layers of guitar and guitar effects thicken the bass remains prominent, driving and pulsing with clean precision and the groove-inducing power akin to The Rolling Stones. Nowhere on the album is the bass more of a presence than “Crown of Thorns” where the bass opens the track and then powers the pace through what can only be described as a soundtrack worthy of the most epic training montage in an athletic drama. If the album truly seeks to determine what the water wants it can only follow that what the water truly wants is more clean electric bass with a touch of reverb and chorus.
“Shine” is perhaps the most aggressive track on the album and also one of the most surprising to hear Ray crooning over. While the guitar tone isn’t filthy or dirty it is heavily distorted (in the oh-so-progressive manner) and the main theme of the track is sharp enough to be perceived as outside Alder’s traditional zone. That said, his voice is hardly out of place as the pace quickens and the tech-y riff drives the tune squarely onto the path of progressive metal. As he says, “the waves will crash but the sun will always shine” and so will Alder’s voice.
Similarly, “Wait” (also a composition of Lords of Black guitarist Tony Hernando) puts Alder in the driver’s seat of another metal-centric tune. Here he lets his voice air out into the territory of throaty shouts drenched in sentiment–something that has become somewhat of an appreciated hallmark later in Alder’s career. The track balances heavier verses with a shinier, more traditional chorus allowing Alder to nestle into his preferred vocal range like an elder gentleman slipping into a hammock for an afternoon wink.
The “title” track “What the Water Wanted” (a composition of Fates Warning touring guitarist Mike Abdow), situated as the penultimate track, is unironically the greatest expression of the album for which it is named. (Or is it the other way around?) With copious amounts of guitar work, layering and effects “What the Water Wants” sounds squarely in the realm of the Fates Warning catalog without ever coming anything close to derivative. It’s a track that would sound at home electrified on the stage or performed in a somber acoustic version during an impromptu session at the back of a tour bus. The chorus is infectious to the point that a warning should be included that it may cause singalongs, air guitaring and more than a few hideous musician-in-the-zone facial expressions.
Always one to choose the most adorable path possible, Cecilia Garrido handled the artwork for the album and just happens to also be married to Ray Alder. It’s a fitting choice as all of Alder’s vocal work has always felt intimate, sincere and effortlessly natural. The fact that he chose to surround himself with Fates Warning’s touring guitarist, a former fan turned pal, his wife and longtime friend Craig Anderson (of the hardcore outfit Ignite) is probably the least surprising aspect of What the Water Wants.
What the Water Wants achieves Alder’s vision of an album that denies classification. It’s progressive for sure and while at times it sounds metal it’s truly an album that consists of playing what you feel and feeling what you play. At times the album sounds and feels grudgingly dated in the most wonderful of ways — tracks that could inspire ski races against evil party boys — while at other times it feels subdued, mournful and introspective. And that’s what a solo album should sound like: a reflection of the artist whose name adorns the spine of the CD, LP or cassette (or whatever format has either been invented or come back in vogue by the time this is published).
Thus, What the Water Wants can Basque (get it?) in its success and likely rejoice in the friendships and emotional connections that were made during the recording process (even if the musicians weren’t in the same room or even continent). And the same can be said for those who listen to the album and appreciate its diversity of sound balanced with its consistency of sincerity. Art, much like a well-crafted wine (or beer if you’re Ms. Garrido) while it can easily be consumed in isolation, is made so much richer by the inclusion of loved ones, friends and new acquaintances. What the Water Wants is the proof.