[Artwork by Patrick Atkins]
Veteran Fates Warning fans are an extremely devoted bunch. We approach each release with marked enthusiasm, we routinely show support by collecting tactile goods, and we commonly do whatever it takes to witness the band from the stage (for as long as Fates Warning and the earth allow this to occur.) We are frequently marked as “prog nerds” by those observing our exchanges from outside the confines, which is evidently meant to be a slight, but we wear that particular crown with dignity (*cough*) and aplomb (*hacking cough followed by a dramatic fall down the stairs*).
Devotion such as this isn’t exactly rare for any long-standing band that continues to hit the target over a span of decades, but the landscape starts to get a little more tricky in this case because that unique “prog” designation often comes standard with an established specter of fussbudgetry. Addendum: Some veteran Fates Warning fans can be a prickly bunch. Accordingly, varying degrees of one or more of the following are likely to materialize around a few corners whenever new material is afoot: an expectation of progression (duh), so long as it’s not taken in a direction that’s too far outside our wheelhouse; an urgent autopsy of most every passage and solo; and / or a level of persnicketyism as it relates to album production that might inspire Quincy Jones himself to search for the nearest window.
What-ho and good dawning to thee…can it be?? What’s that being hauled across fall’s leaden horizon by an inbound flock of Canada geese honking its klaxon over the din of 2020? A brand new Fates Warning release landing just in time to out-spice all the pumpkin-dipped lattes, ales, muffins, Cheerios and White Claws? Long Day Good Night, the band’s 13th full-length (and first back in the comforting embrace of Metal Blade, following two albums behind InsideOut Music), couldn’t possibly be better timed, both because of the arrival of fall and because so many of us are starving for nostalgic comfort amidst COVID-19 delirium. In light of this, there are two questions that immediately leap to the foreground: Does the new record charm the heart in that unparalleled Fates Warning way, and does it reach the lofty bar set by 2016’s Theories of Flight?
The answer to those questions would be an emphatic yes and yes. And depending on your temperament, also perhaps a little no, maybe, mostly, and even a bit of here and there, because, yeah, progressive metal fans can be prickly, and Fates Warning is about to drop an album that’s AN HOUR AND FIFTEEN BLOODY MINUTES LONG. Simply by virtue of it being the longest studio release the band has recorded to date, Long Day Good Night is not as immediate as the previous record, and by that same virtue it also represents the most adventurous material Fates Warning has doled out to date, so expect heaviness, anger, introspection, sentimentality, electronics, familiar feelings of autumn, stretches of fusion, a surprisingly soulful (as in neo-soul) gloom jam (wait, what?), and a solemn nod to the sort of glowering alt rock that ruled airwaves around the mid 90s as well. Of course it’s all governed by that unmistakable Matheos / Alder essence, so you’re not about to walk into something completely unorthodox, but one should expect the unexpected and also be prepared to find fresh ways to think about Fates Warning in 2020.
An intuition: Some will question the mixing job by Joe Barresi, whose CV is mottled with everything from Alice In Chains (Rainier Fog) to Kyuss (Blues for the Red Sun through …Circus) to Enslaved (Vertebrae), and an individual whose approach to Long Day Good Night incorporates several additional layers of bark on the corners compared to what came down the chute back in 2016. The many quiet moments are still perfectly clear and charming, mind you, but the riffing on this record is as raw and earthy as we’ve heard from Fates Warning—quite literally crackling with an intensity that periodically leaves bits of crunchy feedback exposed and hanging from the fringes (a bit too muddy on “Liar,” to be honest.) It’s an intriguing approach that makes for a sinewy, surprisingly feral form of heaviness attached to the more aggressive songs, and it’s noticeable enough that the record might leave a few trace elements of soily footprints on the living room rug after extensive play. All else dealing with the overall mix is quite smooth and textbook—everyone gets equal participation under the spotlight, with perhaps a bit more emphasis thrown toward Joey Vera’s bass presence (never a bad thing) that gives the overall atmosphere during the harder moments an even burlier, medium-rare impression.
A certainty: When Fates Warning gets their album covers right—which, as we know, isn’t always a guarantee—they get them so frigging right that fans eventually cannot separate the greatness of said art from the music that dwells behind it. Such is the case with Long Day Good Night, which finds the band reconnecting with a darker vibe that’s certainly fitting of the times, but similar to Patrick Atkin’s wonderful cover artwork, things never fully pull away from the supporting light. The abundance of charming melody always prevails—Matheos of course dominates, but long-time live guitarist Michael Abdow is in attendance enough with lifting leads that he’s pictured in the press photo, and Ray Alder’s talent for absurdly engaging vocal hooks ensures that every song delivers that familiar sense of isolated comfort. Further related to Alder: He sounds absolutely amazing on this record, which, considering the fact that he apparently had to sneak into the recording studio via a moving van amidst strict COVID restrictions in Spain and subsequently spent two weeks sleeping in a vocal booth, is testament to just how deep his talent reaches. Suffice to say, you will absolutely find yourself singing contagious choruses from “Shuttered World,” “Now Comes the Rain” and “Under the Sun” for years to come, and his soulful delivery on “When Snow Falls” is nothing short of amazing.
Expanding a bit on the full extent of styles found across the record, it’s worth noting that while an hour and fifteen minute run-time seems almost ludicrous on paper for a band in 2020, the time flies past as a consequence of all the structural dipping and weaving that occurs. The record goes straight for the chops (after a conventional quiet intro) with “The Destination Onward” [8:12], “Shuttered World” [5:13] (catchiest chorus), and “Alone We Walk” [4:44], and that’s the closest things come to a direct connection to the bright, buoyant Theories of Flight design.
The next three cuts hearken back to the Perfect Symmetry / Parallels era by rousing all the familiar autumnal sentiments. Slow, wistful and magnificently melodic guitar work weaves flawlessly with Alder’s golden voice, and choruses wrap the heart with nostalgic memories of less severe times. “The Way Home” [7:43] eventually splits for more progged-out waters, “Under the Sun” ups the melancholic ante by introducing full orchestral strings for the first time, and the brilliant “Now Comes the Rain” sort of splits the difference and peppers in the album’s first bits of light electronics.
The back half of the record kicks off with “Scars,” which quickly lays down the album’s heaviest strut, and then the band’s more intrepid face emerges from the smoke. “Begin Again” dispenses a vigorous dose of 90s alt-rock by coming across like a lost Soundgarden song filtered through the customary Fates Warning lens, and the most surprising track, “When Snow Falls” (featuring current King Crimson / Pineapple Thief drummer Gavin Harrison)—with its moody, pulsing rhythm and Alder’s warm, intimate delivery—is inches away from being an unexpectedly magnificent neo-soul jam.
Great horny toads, we haven’t even gotten to “The Longest Shadow of the Day” [11:29], the prog-nerd centerpiece, and this review is already longer than the Declaration of Independence. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united Fates of America…
The longest song on the record is expectedly splendid: lots of fusion, playful experimentation, delicate guitar work, bubbling bass, a sense of breeziness, a chunk of heaviness, pensiveness, scattered bleeps and bloops, vocal hooks, sweeping leads, the nastiest bass break-out of the record (around 8:40), and just about anything else one might hope to hear from Fates Warning circa 2020 wrapped up in a tremendously epic swell toward the end. And closing out the record with a brief and solemn acoustic number as poignant as “The Last Song” is just sublime, even if one can’t help but hope with the greatest of hopes that the lyrics aren’t related to the status of the band moving forward.
We were just fools pretending the world was at our knees
Headlong into the summer sun
But now our winter has begun
The days ahead—just questions in the mist
While we wonder how we ever ended up like this
Hope and fear, of thee I sing
What will tomorrow bring
It’s hard to understand where the time went
Looking back upon the years I never dreamt
That Fate would show its head in a life spent
Walking down the only road I’ve ever known
The curtain falls upon a darkened stage
Voices fade like words across a worn-out, ending page
The writer writes his final role
This is the last song
Veteran Fates Warning fans really don’t need reviews to impact whether or not a new album will be added to an existing collection, particularly ones that take as long to read as the album does to play. When this band releases new material, we buy it—it’s really just that simple. And while it would be overly servile to claim Fates Warning is incapable of releasing a bad record, the truth remains: Fates Warning has not released a bad record. Sure, a couple around the halfway point don’t reach the same peak as their numerous pinnacles, but there’s nothing that could ever be considered an outright wasted effort. Where Long Day Good Night ends up ranked alongside the rest of the band’s discography is ultimately far less critical than the truth that the record continues the positive course put in place by Darkness in a Different Light and Theories of Flight, and it does so by intensifying the elements we’ve come to anticipate from the band, while adding a number of twists that really push the envelope. You know, spicy in the way progressive metal should be spicy. He who controls the spice controls the universe, and Long Day Good Night has certainly been ruling this fan’s universe of late.