Arch/Matheos - Sympathetic resonance 5/5

Reviewed: 10-1-11


1. Neurotically wired
2. Midnight serenade
3. Stained glass sky
4. On the fence
5. Any given day (Strangers like me)
6. Incense and myrrh

The major players behind the greatest artistic creation return, 25 years later, with a unique masterpiece that is an achingly glorious melding of diverse, intricate ambition (Jim Matheos) and penultimate human emotion and passion (John Arch). The results are a truly unique voice, and yet, unlike Fates Warning’s past 6 CDs, it is still a heavy metal CD at its core, with all the power that implies but none of it limitations. The intricacy and complexity add to, not diminish, its essential heart and spirit.

The name for the act is curious, because along with Arch and Matheos, guitarist Frank Aresti returns, meaning 60% of the original Fates Warning 'Awaken the guardian' line-up is on this CD. That would be more than enough for most bands to keep the original name of the band, but when you add to the fact that bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek who play on this are current members of Fates Warning, you have everyone playing on this CD in or once in Fates Warning, and yet with a different name. Perhaps it’s for the best, as I must admit that while Fates Warning once created the greatest music ever, their more recent CDs left me increasingly cold and completely uninterested.

With the title, just like with ‘Parallels’, they’ve used a scientific or math concept as a powerful metaphor for the human condition. ‘Parallels’ spun off its lyrical themes from of geometric definition of two lines in the same plane which can never touch, with the agonizing disconnection between human beings (“your perception lacks clarity/and my perspective is blinding me” or “we can move each other to tears/but we can’t see eye to eye”). By contrast, sympathetic resonance is in some sense the opposite, as objects react to the vibration in others, and perhaps it’s the fact that the members are reunited that colors that concept.

It is impossible for me to discuss this CD without its emotional backdrop. 25 years ago, flush with my first paychecks from a high school dishwashing job, I was visiting our local record store, my ears ringing with a classmate’s praise of Metal Blade bands like Lizzy Borden, and I excitedly plunged into the less-mainstream by picking up Fates Warning’s ‘Awaken the guardian’ on cassette. Opening up the blue-themed cassette packaging, my initial impressions were quite positive, somewhat complex heavy metal with a bit of an Iron Maiden feeling, and great, intricate lyrics with fantasy imagery and themes. (Keep in mind, despite conceptions, this was really a rarity back then, before Rhapsody and their ilk gave us all the high fantasy in lyrics we could ask for.) However, repeated listens took this CD, and its soon acquired predecessor, ‘The spectre within’, into the realm of not only the greatest metal ever, but by syllogism to my heart, the greatest music, and the highest art ever. Arch’s unique emotive voice and lyrics conveyed the essence of the human heart with more poignancy than any ever seen or felt since. I remember a college essay I wrote where I used this as an example of the allegory of art as talismanic magick, where the words, music, or pictures from an artist that speak to us are a fundamental means of sharing the human experience. This was emphasized by the number of metal fans who felt the same, perhaps incomprehensibly subjective attachment and appreciation to this CD. Ironic, I suppose, since that contravenes the allegory of Parallels.

But, in somewhat devastating fashion, perhaps an example of the light-that-burns-twice-as-bright phenomenon, the band soon parted ways with John Arch, and while Ray Alder put in some solid CDs with the band, it simply was never the same, and also seemed to increasingly decline. Arch essentially disappeared from the music scene, turning up on a Dream Theater demo tape that was quickly traded, but otherwise retreated into a role like a metallic J.D. Salinger, while people like me wondered what had happened to the most important singer they had ever heard.

Finally, in 2003, Arch returned, with who else but Matheos (as well as Vera and former (can’t get used to that) Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, to put out an amazingly impressive 2-song EP, ‘Twist of fate’. In fact, looking back, I wonder how I didn’t put more emphasis on the enormity of this release, but perhaps the fact that it was a 2-song CD (although clocking in at about 25 minutes) just didn’t carry the gravitas, like a short story instead of a novel.

Now, however, it all comes to fulfilment, with the release of ‘Sympathetic resonance’. The only relatively accurate descriptive comparison is its predecessor. ‘Twist of fate’ had its own truly unique poignancy, growing beyond the more straight-forward metal tenets of ‘Awaken the guardian’, and ‘Sympathetic resonance’ continues that format. The song structure is similar as well, despite having just 6 songs, it clocks in at over 54 minutes, with 3 tracks that exceed the 10-minute mark.

To describe the style, the CD is at once the most powerful assertion of heavy metal, with plenty of power in the guitars, the drums, and the ascendant vocals of Arch, but with an immeasurable depth and intricacy, woven acoustic delicacy and intricately layered time signatures. The complexity lacks the digression of some overly proggy metal, and the fact that this is essentially a keyboard-free CD, where the band is able to convey all that mood and sound with the purer metal elements is all the more impressive. (I like the new Dream Theater, but when hearing Jordan Rudess play with gimmicks like a Haken Continuum touchpad, I all the more appreciate the more direct elements on this CD.)

Arch’s lyrics have not lost anything in the past 25 years. They still weave the vision of the human soul into a fascinatingly cathartic mesh of imagery, and while there is a tad less fantasy in that imagery, when he breaks out references to “Exodus” in “Stained glass sky”, my soul cries out in glory. It could be seen as just slightly more mature, but not in a way that will disappoint fans of the classic.

The musicianship is incredible in every facet. Metal veteran Joey Vera indicated that the songs that Matheos wrote were the hardest things he ever had to learn to play. The production is what every band should aspire to, and one element in which this CD transcends the original Fates Warning CDs in spades. All elements are, clear, crisp, and separated into glorious power. The metallic guitars ringing clear are a sharp, honed razor, while the palm muted crunch is a superlative sussurative roar, and the frequent acoustic passages are the utmost in clear, ringing delicacy.

This is nothing less than a masterpiece, an essential purchase for any fan of metal, music, or great art.




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