Fates Warning — Long Day Good Night
The page forever altered, songs left unsung
The destination onward is still unknown
Sadly all good things must come to an end.
For musicians, the manner in which that end arrives, is what seems to have so many variations. Some ends are sudden or before their time, others are too drawn-out and overdue. Some are planned, others are due to factors out of anyone's control.
Thankfully Fates Warning appear to have taken control of their own ending. Their reputation as being one of the most influential and entertaining bands in the history of (progressive) metal, remains firmly intact. If Long Day Good Night is their studio swan-song, then it is a fitting way to wrap-up a recording career that has produced 13 ground-breaking albums across almost 40 years.
Rumours about the band's future have circulated since the 2013 release of Darkness In A Different Light. However the positive critical response to their last two releases and successful tours around the world have delayed any official announcements of calling it a day. The wonderful double live album Live Over Europe offers more than enough proof that No Exit was the correct decision.
But now with a closing track entitled The Last Song, singer Ray Alder confirmed in a recent Progcast interview, that this new album is likely to be their last.
"For the last two albums, Jim (Matheos) was not sure he wanted to do those. But we had a lot of success and fun on tour and continued. I kinda think now he's done as far as writing. I don't think he wants to continue writing fresh music for Fates Warning. But as far as touring, he's so ready to go on the road."
Fates Warning albums always deserve a bit of time before reaching any conclusions as to their merits. Instead of rushing a review based on crap digital promos, I've spent some time with the full CD package (and very nicely presented in a little digi-book it is too).
Long Day Good Night is another impressive release from Fates Warning. The only real issue is that it follows a near perfect Theories Of Flight, the twelfth album that contains some of their best songs ever. From The Rooftops, Seven Stars, The Light And Shade Of Things helped make Theories Of Flight one of my Top 20 prog-metal albums of the last decade.
Long Day Good Night is Fates' 13th album and it has 13 songs. It is by quite some way their longest and most varied recording. In part that is its failing. It is just too bloated. It lacks focus. The weaker moments reduce the impact of the stronger ones.
Thankfully there are still many of those to enjoy. If you cut out the weaker tracks, there is a cracking normal-length Fates Warning album to be savoured.
The highlights? There are many.
The slow, throbbing, almost doomy opening to The Destination Onward mixes the introspective mood of FWX and A Pleasant Shade Of Grey before launching into the heavy groove and insanely-memorable twin-chorus melodies as enjoyed on Parallels and their last album.
Fates Warning albums have always sought to offer something different. In a way this album stands more as a collection of those many different things. It touches most bases from the history of the band but also the solo and side projects that have blessed the careers of Matheos and Alder.
Alone We Walk is another highlight, for the way it takes some elements from OSI to create a very different mood. It is a wonderful example of how, as a songwriter, Matheos has always been able to effortlessly shift gears, to dance in and out of varying dynamics whilst avidly avoiding the verse-chorus-verse-solo format.
The three tracks in the middle of the album showcase that magnificently. They are direct in different ways and without fault. Scars was the first single and possesses the self-confident stomp and swagger displayed on Alder's Engine side project.
Begin Again adds some OSI effects and more of the style from FWX, with a sparkling chorus that would have been quite at home on Alder's impressive solo debut from 2019. Some brilliant bass work from Joey Vera, and a carefully-placed acoustic guitar break enliven this track further.
When Snow Falls completes the transition. This reflective track is just a beautiful piece of progressive song writing in the vein of the opening half of River Wide Ocean Deep from FWX. Gavin Harrison adds his talents behind the drum kit on this track.
The Longest Shadow of the Day is not to the level of previous "epics" such as Ivory Gate Of Dreams or Still Remains. However as an album track, showcasing the more technical side of the band, it works a treat. Heavily dominated by the instruments, it takes parts from Matheos' recent solo album, early Rush, the Fates Inside Out mid-period and the heavy technical metal of the Arch Matheos side project. There is no real melody or big hook, (Alder's vocals are really just another instrument), but it is a great track.
It's here that the extra guitar solos from live guitarist Michael Abdul add great contrast. Whilst Jim Matheos' work is more melody driven, Michael bring a more technical style. This song, like much of the album, also serves as a showcase for Joey Vera's underrated but excellent bass playing.
If you treat the final song as a deserved career-closing coda, then the remaining six tracks is where the bloat occurs. I could take two of these as enjoyable additions to the seven brilliant songs already mentioned, and have a classic Fates album. But six fillers is too much, even for those, like me, with a very big appetite for this band. Two are particularly missable but none really take the listener anywhere special.
Some of this is down to the fact that several of these songs started life as potential bonus tracks or intros to songs. They were then expanded to become tracks in their own right (Under The Sun).
I also get the sense that the band was up against a tough record label timetable. Combined with the logistical problems of trying to record in a pandemic, then things became a bit rushed. Songs that could have benefited from further development, stayed as they were.
Ray Alder had to go to extreme lengths to even get his vocals recorded. Now based in Spain, the country was in full lockdown. He was unable to go to work. But he could move house. So he moved house to the recording studio, sleeping in the vocal booth and eating microwave meals for two weeks. In order to meet the deadlines, tracks were sent to be mixed while the vocals for other songs were still being recorded. He did manage to record all 13 songs in 12 days. Far from ideal conditions though.
Now Comes The Rain is enjoyable enough. Its heavy AoR style sits between Parallels, a Dokken power ballad and the heavier side of Europe. Shuttered World has that textbook Matheos riff and a classic Alder hook but sounds too familiar. The over-use of the bass drum dominates my ears.
The Way Home opens as a ballad that is almost Simon and Garfunkel-ish in its pattern. I'm not sure the band has ever done anything this mellow. Then it ascends through an off-kilter jazz-rock meets OSI interlude, before something that mirrors the drum-led patterns and heavy groove of the music from Disconnected.
Under the Sun opens with strings; another first for the band I think. It is a full ballad but my attention always wanders. Liar goes back to the band's heavy metal roots in its riffing, but with another AOR-inspired, bright chorus. It's my least favourite track and the guitars sound too muddy in the mix. Glass House is an up-tempo, short song that needs further development.
Of the thirteen Fates Warning albums, I arrived too late to ever really get into the first three (Arch-era) albums, so Long Day Good Night will be sitting somewhere in the Top 10 above No Exit and Darkness In A Different Light but just behind Perfect Symmetry. The remainder are pretty flawless prog-metal classics.
A word of praise about Alder's lyrics; or to be more accurate, his poetry. His style is to create moods rather than meaning. As he says: "I try to let the words mean to you, whatever they mean to you. They will say different things to different people. I try to paint a picture, for which people can come up with their own story."
The closing track is the first time that Jim and Ray have co-written the lyrics to a song. So I think it appropriate to end this review of their final album, with the final words of their Last Song.
Its hard to understand where the time went
Looking back upon the years, I never dreamt
That fate would show its hand, and a life spent
Walking down the only road I've ever known
The writer writes his final wrong
This is the last song
A Lily Gray — Sirens
A Lily Gray is an alternative rock band from Salt Lake City and Boston, consisting of Sunimal Alles (guitar), Justin Clark (bass), David Lynn Olsen (vocals) and drummer Brian Waite. This is the band's self-produced debut album, and a very promising opening statement it is.
The layered, soundscapey style of composition and playing, the echoed-elongation and close-harmonies of the vocals, and the ever-present keyboard sounds which soothe the chuggily-swaggering staccato of the riffage, mirrors the alt-rock sound perfected by a swathe of Australian bands over the past two decades.
Fans of Cog, Dead Letter Circus, The Butterfly Effect, Caligula's Horse, Sadhana and Karnivool will find the sounds to be found on Sirens, very much to their liking. At various points I am also reminded of Fair To Midland, Rishloo, Isis, Skyharbour, Coheed & Cambria, Opus Dai, 3, and Suns of the Tundra.
Where A Lily Gray show their USP is in the way that all 10 tracks overlap to form a continuous, immersive listen. Each song stands on its own two feet, but there are no actual gaps/pauses between them. This is not done in the form of a concept album, nor a long-form song (although in future it could be). However there is a commonality to the band's sound that collates this album as more of a listening experience, than as merely a collection of songs. I like that.
All four musicians do themselves credit, and the sound is clear, allowing each instrument to be heard. If I had to pick highlights then I'd suggest you try the catchy Story Goes (watch the video below) and the ever-changing moods of Deal Of The Moth (click here for the video). I also note the impressive closing pair, where the band shows a possible future direction by bringing in a little more chaos and stretching its songwriting a bit more. A band I shall keep an eye on.
Our Oceans — While Time Disappears
Dutch trio Our Oceans were a band I'd almost forgotten about until this album came along. The band released their self-titled debut in 2015, and even after receiving a huge response from fans and massive critical acclaim, the band remained quiet for the most part, until now.
Consisting of vocalist/guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, formerly of Floridian progressive death metal band Cynic, and the similarly-styled Exivious, bassist Robin Zielhorst (also of both bands) and drummer Yuma van Eekelen of Dutch death metal band Pestilence, Our Oceans play a more laid-back style of progressive art rock, with some post rock and metal influences, as well as some jazz-fusion-based elements. Overall, this second outing is similar in style to their debut, it contains the same haunting, clean guitar parts, ethereal vocals and prominent fretless bass, yet there is something darker, heavier and more mature this time around.
Opener Unravel is a perfect example of this, bursting into a wall of sound with crashing guitars and chunky bass tones. Yet this soon flows into more familiar territory, the soft vocals of Tymon Kruidenier just sprinkled with a slight filter, his bluesy, neck pick-up style guitar tone is instantly recognisable from the debut.
There is a strong sense of build-up in this track. Whereas the songs on the debut seemed to be more predictable, here you are never quite sure which way the song is going to turn. Eventually it steps up the heaviness, the band using almost screamed vocals, though not quite that harsh. The end of the song brings a beautiful guitar solo, backed-up with some wonderful synth strings. It's an interesting opener and one that is likely to surprise some fans of their first album with its subtle aggression.
If I mention their debut album a lot during this review, it's because I really don't have much to compare this to. Our Oceans sound nothing like the members' previous bands, and no one else that I know of. Even the band's 'similar artists' section on Spotify contains a wide range of different acts, none of whom sound anything like these guys. The only similar band that crossed my mind was Aeon Spoke, who coincidentally happen to also feature two members of Cynic. (Ed: They only ever released two albums: Above The Buried City and Aeon Spoke, but are well worth looking up if you like this kind of haunting, atmospheric rock.)
The album continues more in the vein of their debut with Weeping Lead and The Hearts Whisper, both good tracks in their own right, but rather forgettable compared to the opener. Weeping Lead takes a while to get going, but when it does it contains a nice, melodic section very similar to something Dutch tech metal band Textures might have done, during some of their quieter sections.
The Hearts Whisper has an almost grungy opening, its guitar tones remind me of something that Pearl Jam could have done in the nineties, yet the unique vocals bring this song firmly back in line. The song builds to a very emotional climax, featuring vocals that reach almost Pain Of Salvation levels of epic.
By this point in the album I was wondering if anything was going to really 'wow' me. Fortunately track four, Motherly Flame, is exactly what I was waiting for. This is the best track on the album by a good distance, and the best thing Our Oceans have ever written, replacing my previous favourite track from their debut, the beautiful What If.
I don't know exactly what it is, the haunting build-up to the chorus, the incredible chorus itself with its weird melodies, the massive guitar solo or just the whole vibe of this song. It's almost the perfect song of its kind. It reminds me of the incredibly odd vibes I got from listening to Keor, and how those guys manage to intertwine the most beautiful melodies into their incredibly strange song arrangements. Definitely one of my favourite songs of 2020.
The rest of the album, somewhat unfortunately, loses this momentum and never quite recovers. There are some other highlights and plenty of variety. The upbeat, post rock of Face Them is a great track to follow the much-less-interesting romp that is Passing By. Yet despite being the heaviest track on the album, the melodies and ideas within this song aren't quite on a par with the earlier tracks.
Your Night, My Dawn has an interesting atmosphere, but never really builds on it, sounding somewhat out of place here. Maybe it would have worked as part of a bigger piece, perhaps the centerpiece to a much longer song, but that's not really the style of Our Oceans, and this song just becomes an excuse to hit the skip button on later listens. You Take has a great little chorus. The way the drums increase the tempo here is a really good touch, but the song fails to reach the highs of some of the other tracks.
It is closer, With Hands Torn Open, that saves this album from being simply average (what is it with closing tracks this year?). This is a brilliant track. The opening with the synth and bass is the perfect kind of build-up to its wonderful chorus. It's catchy. It's epic. It's everything that the rest of this album could and should have been. The use of vocal harmonies here is great, something rarely heard during this album, which seems like a huge missed oppourtunity.
Ultimately this is an average album with two incredibly good songs on it, and that saves it to an extent. It's definitely worth a listen. You may enjoy the majority of it more than I did, and I'd certainly still recommend it to anybody who enjoyed their first album. I just wish the band had taken some new directions more often here instead of writing a slightly heavier version of their debut. The parts where they explore new territory (the synths and the heaviness especially), are the best parts of the album for me. Maybe album number three will be the one.
Serdimontana — On The Sunny Side
A new band to my ears, and what we find here is not your typical prog album. The interestingly-named Serdimontana, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, are mainly three members: Chichagov and Lobiakin Dmitrii (brothers?) and Solovieva Anastasia. What they produce is in their own words: "Thoughtful progressive rock and sloppy psychedelia, to new-wave and charming dream pop".
What I hear is a myriad of influences, where each track takes you on a short, sharp, sunny journey. Almost a blast back to the Balearic tunes that filled chill-out compilations a few years back. Not that that is a bad thing, because each track is so different.
First track Hello World reminds me of artists like M83 and Ulrich Schnauss, who were once described as New 'Gaze' or 'electrogaze'. Gentle electronica that washes over in waves. The vocalist reminds me of Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Before you know it the track is over.
Desert Island follows with an intro that takes me back to krautrock greats like Harmonia and Neu!, as well as more modern bands like K-scope's Engineers. There is a real pop sensibility here, with gentle swathes of guitar. The addition of a female voice on backing vocals adds to the dream-pop sound. The bass riff at the end is totally funky.
There is more guitar on third track Right Now. Not to say it bursts into a rock-out, it is still gentle and funky, with the addition of almost cheesy synths. I am reminded of some of the gentle indie of the 80s like Blue Nile and New Muzik. I really like the guitar sound on this. The drop in the track around 2:20 is unexpected and a nice addition. Fans of Duran Duran will love this.
Love starts with a dated drum machine sound, before entering an almost yacht-rock piano sound. There is a truly sunny summer here that just makes me smile. The reference point is electronic band Royksopp, or an American band I've heard called Ghostly Beard. The track Eple comes to mind.
One of my favourite tracks is A Million Stars. A string-sounding piano intro builds to the place where drums and guitar join in to create a real nice sound that at times reminds me of The Source with Candi Staton and You've Got The Love. "Not very prog," I hear you say. Depends what you term "progressive". I love it, along with the dual vocal sound. And a nice ending of reverb too.
A short interlude track comes next, a two-minute instrumental that whispers Eno and Slowdive. Then Hammock gently comes in with a soothing guitar riff and an almost acid jazz feel. Darker, more spoken vocals feature in this track. Still the sound of Tennent, but strangely I also hear some Gerry Rafferty. I love how this song ends. Total summer sounds and then we finish with a thunder storm.
Reunification returns to the krautrock influence. Yet there is also an indie organ sound reminiscent of the Inspiral Carpet's This Is How It Feels.
Another instrumental track follows with Undercover. This time it is a bit more than a filler track. The keyboard sound builds during the opening, until it comes to complete funk out. This is like the experimental pop of the 80s. There is real groove here. Adamski is the point of reference on a track that could really benefit from an extended 12" mix.
Closing track A Normal Day is the longest on offer at 6:10 with a relaxed sound of synth and shuffling drum. This track is not in a rush to go anywhere. A real chilled out vibe that could have been the theme tune to an old cop show. At the two-minute mark there is a gentle shift to an acid jazz sound again and this is another instrumental track that has a lot going on. Groove Armada and even Santana could be influences here. There is another shift in sound during the final minute. And that is it.
Is there enough to keep a prog music fan happy? If you enjoy the prog pop of Tears for Fears, Japan or Thomas Dolby, or the smooth acid jazz sounds of the 90s, or even the Balaeric music of the 80s and 90s, I would say there is much to keep your attention here. It is a well-crafted and beautiful album of chilled out vibes. You will not find long epics but you will find experimental pop with a progressive attitude. A great way to be bringing some sunshine into these dark, winter days.
Soniq Circus — I'm Awake, Carry On Life
Soniq Circus from Malmö in Sweden consist of Marcus Enochsson (guitars, vocals), Christer Ugglin (drums), Markus Nilsson (bass), Marco Ledri (keyboards), and Alexander Abrahamsson (lead vocals), with Marcus Enochsson, who also acts as main composer, being the only one present right from the beginning. They celebrated their 20th anniversary in October of last year.
The band has not really flooded the prog rock world with releases since their foundation, with an eponymous debut coming out in 2007 and the successor Reflections In The Hourglass following in 2011. Nothing was heard from the band thereafter. The release of another album to be called Cruised Curse was envisaged for 2016 but did not materialise.
One can only speculate why all this occurred the way it did. The (somewhat scarce) info on the internet mentions a creative break and some line-up changes. Anyway, now we have an EP with four again eponymous tracks released by Progress Records, responsible amongst others for peers such as Magic Pie, Brighteye Brison, Silhouette, and Galleon.
Soniq Circus have committed themselves to playing heavy symphonic progressive rock with a considerable dose of prog metal and a touch of neo-prog, not unlike bands such as Galleon, A.C.T., Rush, Ritual, and Windom End, but also evoking, with respect to the heavier parts, Echolyn, Threshold, and Vanden Plas. Consequently, we find clearly recognisable song structures, catchy melodies and harmonies, and accessible choruses. The interaction of guitars and keyboards (mainly synthesizer, with some piano) appears to be well-balanced, insofar as the guitars primarily are responsible for the riffing, whilst the soloing is done to a large extent by the synthesizers.
I was not totally convinced by the vocals, as I sometimes found them lacking volume, punch, and depth. I tend to assume that this in part due to the mixing, which overstates the drums, whilst the bass is hardly audible (except for the intro on Life). The guitars come across as a bit too intrusive, and the vocals occasionally sound suppressed and dull. The musical complexity overall remains at a manageable level, but the songs provide for enough breaks, changes of tempo and mood and diversity. The band's musical abilities are well-suited to keep the listeners' attention focussed throughout the entire EP. It is a release one can access right from the very first listening.
With only four tracks on this EP and a total length of just over 26 minutes, it is difficult to single out a favourite. On the other hand, there is no particularly weak track either. A "primus inter pares" for me is the album's longest track Carry On, due to its variety, its breaks, and the appealing use of the keyboards, especially concerning the grand piano and the synth solo towards the middle section.
Having enjoyed the band's previous releases and considering their long-lasting existence and the scarcity of their releases, I asked myself what might have persuaded Soniq Circus to come up "just" with an EP after almost nine years of absence. Did they just want to convey their 'vital signs' in this period of pandemic where social activities and everyday's life are locked down? That could match the EP's and the tracks' names, but eventually those are only my personal assumptions and the band surely must have had their reasons. I must admit, though, that what they did seemed a bit like neither fish nor fowl to me and I look forward to seeing (and hearing) the band come up with a fully-fledged release in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, listeners with an affinity for accessible, catchy, melodic, moderately complex symphonic heavy prog with neo-prog touches will have to make do with this "appetiser".
Spirits Burning & Michael Moorcock — The Hollow Lands
How come so few of us know about a project that has featured so many guest prog and rock stars? Members from Blue Öyster Cult, Hawkwind, Clearlight, and Karda Estra, and artists such as Theo Travis, Daevid Allen and even Steven Wilson; all these people at some point have helped the project's mastermind Don Falcone in creating the Spirits Burning discography. (Ed: DPRP has previously reviewed five of their releases from Alien Injection in 2008, to The Roadmap In Your Head in 2007. Find them here on the Search page.)
If you are unaware of Spirits Burning's history, the first thing you probably need to know about The Hollow Lands is that this is the second part of Don's conceptual sequence of records, based on the Dancers On The End of Time series by the mighty English sci-fi writer (and musician) Michael Moorcock. This album was preceded by An Alien Heat in 2018.
I can't help thinking that Moorcock is very likely the third most influential writer for rockers, next to Tolkien and Lovecraft (neither of whom he is really fond of), but definitely ahead of such giants as Stephen King or George Martin. While we have a lawful cohort of metal bands like Blind Guardian, Domine or Cirith Ungol to base their lyrics on Eternal Champion Saga, here Mr. Moorcock himself tries something entirely opposite from his back catalogue – psychedelic, non-heroic and chaotic “End of Time”. After all, as book-geeks affirm, Moorcock's Multi-verse is very much about bringing back balance to the world.
Musically The Hollow Lands is a mixture of Gong's psychedelic music, acid folk, space rock and other 'pariah' genres of the 70s, with a good bunch of dissonant vocals (no, not the jazz-rock-type of dissonance, rather a pub-singing dissonance). Supported by almost the entire Hawkwind and Blue Öyster Cult crews, Don Falcone has created an odd tapestry with many influences and citations.
As for highlights, there are some memorable tunes here. Isn't It Delicious reminds me of Curved Air psychedelia. The Hunt and Conflict and Illusions are both Hawkwind-style chugging rockers, while A Haze of Crimson Light, between these two numbers, opens with an impressive bass-and-synth theme in the vein of Clearlight. Finally, the penultimate track To Time Machine, At Last is a melodic rocker, not unlike Cultösaurus-era BÖC. However, tracks that miss the mark are also there.
So, why does The Hollow Lands fail to be an excellent album? First, because it is more a soundtrack to the eponymous novel, and in all honesty the cadence of a book is never the same as the cadence of a rock album. Michael Moorcock probably knows this better than most of us. Briefly speaking, some of the material was seemingly kept just for the story's sake.
The second reason is that the names of people involved, ring in a listener's ears louder than the music itself. Had this been a record by a newcomer band and have borne no references to one of the greatest fantasy writers alive, it would pass largely unnoticed. Although the record has a lot to offer for fans, an outsider would find the music here either unfriendly or mediocre, especially because of the vocals and the quality of the mix.
Then, why is this a good album? First, because Lands is an entertaining piece of art, full of ideas and wit. Second, because paradoxially “old” is the new “new”. The Hollow Lands is so different from what your average prog band does these days, and so oblivious as to what was happening in the 90s-00s music, that it sounds both unfashionable and quite fresh. Also, the line-up is like a dream-team to fans of mid-70s psychedelic music with members of Hawkwind plus Nektar plus Blue Öyster Cult joining forces to twist your mind the good old way.
Even though I am not an avid fan myself, I can clearly see tears of joy in many proggers' eyes.