As the first Fates Warning album in nearly ten years, Darkness in a Different Light has a long legacy to fulfill. Alongside bands like Queensryche and Dream Theater, Fates Warning were a definitive progressive metal band, influencing countless other groups in their journey to step beyond speed or doom metal. They fused the epic nature of 70’s and 80’s prog rock with the growing New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence, creating a heavy, but operatic sound. Darkness in a Different Light isn’t going to set the world on fire. It pales in comparison to Perfect Symmetry, but for a band that has taken so much time off from studio recordings, it’s an album that only reiterates what made Fates Warning so influential.
Unlike modern progressive metal bands, Fates Warning (along with their peers in Dream Theater and Queensryche) didn’t revel in their songs. Many of the tracks throughout Fates Warning’s albums aren’t marathons of virtuosity, and Darkness in a Different Light is no exception. Only two songs on the entire album break the six-minute mark, a shocking move for contemporary prog metal, but also a smart return to tradition. The songs are prime examples of progressive musicianship, but even better, progressive songwriting. With so many other bands stretching their songs out to stupidly lengthy tracktimes, Fates Warning trims the fat while still retaining that majesty and expansiveness they’ve established from square one. “Firefly” has great uses of heavy riffs; for a few moments throughout, it actually sounds like a radio-friendly track (mind blown). The same can be said of the chugging guitar rhythms of “Kneel and Obey”: they show virtuosity, but also oust pretentiousness. They are the perfect length.
But don’t think that Fates Warning have gone all mainstream on you; this is still a progressive metal record and these guys can still spread their wings and break convention. The final track, “And Yet it Moves”, is a 14-minute showcase of melodic symphonies, one that isn’t as heavy as you might expect, but its multiple segments emit fascinatingly intricate guitar rhythms and drumming patterns whose intricacies will stutter your wavelengths. Vocalist Ray Adler’s singing is also on full display with “And Yet It Moves.” His operatic beckon is a rising call that eventually settles into the acoustic coda at the end of the track. The guitar solo on “Into the Black” captures a slick speed metal aesthetic, but it’s toned just enough to not sound overly indulgent. Guitarists Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti combine heaviness and quelled elegance to produce a strong highlight on the album and one of the most impressive performances from the band in years.
There is, however, a big chunk in the album that sounds obnoxiously stale. From third track “Desire” to “Lighthouse”, the band’s creativity isn’t on full display. This section blends together too much; those moments of distinctive instrumentation heard in “Into the Black” or “Kneel and Obey” are buried under power chords and surprisingly tame vocals from Ray Adler. After the rhythmic bliss of “Firefly”, this streak of weakness sticks out like a sore thumb. Not even a brief interlude in “Falling” has the potential of breaking up this period of monotony.
Fates Warning have definitely made their mark on progressive metal over the course of their career, so Darkness in a Different Light has a tough set of acts to follow. While it’s not the band’s best performance, the album is fresh and resilient enough to give the younger prog metal mavens a run for their money. Its steady flow of traditional metal musicianship and epic symphonic ideals make the album recapture the long-lost spirit of 80’s prog metal. Fates Warning’s penchant for disguising intricacy with aesthetic elegance is alive and well; even if you were skeptical about a fresh Fates Warning album, Darkness in a Different Light, despite its flaws, is an album that delivers on the band’s legacy.