posted on 9/2011 By:
One of the things I'm very thankful for is the fact that I was lucky enough to be alive and directly on the front-lines of heavy metal throughout the 80s as an angry/pimply/hormonally-challenged teenager. I'll fire off an endless barrage of stories detailing the magnificence of early Iron Maiden shows to anyone who's got the time and patience, but in the interest of not derailing things too horrifically, allow me to quickly draw a line between my excitement for Sympathetic Resonance and the fact that during a time when most metal fans were (rightfully) soiling their acid-washed underoos over Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, I was still mostly obsessed with the more fantastical realms painted by an early Fates Warning featuring John Arch and Jim Matheos that produced Night on Bröcken, The Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian. The music provided by these wonderfully groundbreaking albums integrated seamlessly into the life of a 15-year old trying to escape reality with frequent trips to Xanth and stumbling around The Keep on the Borderlands.
Fast forward to all these years later and I still work those three records into regular rotation. And although I have a strong, remarkably different bond with the early Alder-fronted Fates Warning, the Arch/Matheos collaboration was just insanely unique and has never really been duplicated (within a scope that includes both music and vocals) by another band since 1986. Which is precisely what made 2003's A Twist of Fate release under John Arch's name such a weirdly cruel EP. Seventeen years of nothing, followed by a 28-minute teaser of what we'd all been missing--a cruel twist of fate indeed. I'm thankful for it, of course, but in the years since its release, that EP has always had a rather somber effect because it brought to light the cold, hard proof that this partnership still had loads of potential, but questionable longevity.
So, yes, my excitement level was bordering on red alert when I first caught wind of the new Arch/Matheos project. And the addition of Jim's name to the moniker made it clear that the end result would be exactly as I'd hoped: a bona fide partnership. By comparison, the two lengthy tunes that comprised A Twist of Fate were primarily John's vision (with him as the sole architect behind the 15-minute "Cheyenne") and distinctly more soothing, whereas Sympathetic Resonance emphasizes a more aggressive slant that allows Jim's insatiable progressive appetite to drive the album's engine. John's stamp is still rigidly present, however, as he nimbly manages to map that peerless voice atop those knotty twists and turns.
And about that peerless voice: if John Arch has lost a grain of his range since the FW days, you certainly won't hear it here. In fact, all those years appear to have brought a new level of refinement, giving just a pinch more elegance to the mellow shifts and a touch more animation when passages are layered. The album is overflowing with vocal highlights, but I'd be hard-pressed if I didn't point toward "Incense and Myrrh" as one of 2011's most affecting closers because of his fantastic voice: heartbreaking, exquisite and very emotional.
Also worth mentioning: John Arch has always quietly stood as one of metal's more creative and interesting lyricists, and Sympathetic Resonance is no exception to that fact. There's a unifying theme that spans love, loss, hope and acceptance that finely straddles the line between personal experience for the author and words still capable of separately connecting with each listener on an equally visceral level--true testament to a man keenly in tune with how to pen inspirational lyrics.
"Words before me answer not, and yet forever trying
I'd give my life, the life I live, to live like I was finally dying."
Musically, Sympathetic Resonance twists and turns with such a wealth of ideas and time signature changes, I'm not even sure where to begin. It most certainly does not sound like Night/Spectre/Awaken pt. 2, so those looking to be thrown back to the mid-80s best look elsewhere. It would be silly to say it sounds nothing like FW, considering the players, but there's not even a newer Fates Warning vibe coming off this material. First and foremost, this is a very 'progressive metal' sounding album, and the band doesn't rely on any sort of embellishments outside of guitars, bass, drums and vocals to drive home its complexities, so the effects and keyboard flourishes throughout FWX, Disconnected and even A Twist of Fate -- they're nowhere to be found here.
There's ample evidence of 'modern sounding' riffs, some of which will likely catch old-schoolers way-the-hell off guard, but they're generally smoothed out once the vocals kick in, so it's still a far cry from something as contemporary sounding as, say, Animals as Leaders. If I had to succinctly summarize the full scope of the songwriting, I'd affirm that Sympathetic Resonance spans a full gamut of compelling progressive metal elements: it sounds modern, but doesn't lose touch with its roots; it's aggressive, but never fully loses sight of smooth, calming waters; and it's rich, complex and adventurous enough to ensure a healthy, long shelf life. Three of the six tunes offered stretch over the 10-minute mark, and the band makes ample use of every second.
Sidenote: I know the project is Arch/Matheos, but it could easily have been called Arch/Matheos/Aresti/Jarzombek/Vera, based on the overall musicianship that gets kicked up. But, I suppose that would be difficult when it comes to printing shirts, so suffice to say all the players deliver big for this project. However, a special tip of the hat goes to the remarkable work behind the kit via Bobby Jarzombek (Halford/Riot/FW), particularly in the way he rat-a-tat-tats those cymbals.
Yes, it's plain to see that I walked into this album with stars in my eyes. But how many times have we seen collaborations and re-collaborations involving artists we love that ultimately leave us disenchanted and quickly reaching for the works that originally inspired us? An album like Sympathetic Resonance is strong enough to stand wholly on its own and apart from those early Fates Warning works, so the starry eyes are warranted. And it doesn't feel like this is it, either, so I can go back to A Twist of Fate with a fresh mindset as well. Pick up Sympathetic Resonance: it's a remarkably rewarding listen for any fan of intricate progressive metal, and it reaffirms the fact that the Arch & Matheos pairing is as relevant to heavy music today as it was in 1986 -- fantastic stuff.
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