“So where do we begin and what else can we say? When the lines are all drawn, what can we do today?” Those are the first lyrics right at the beginning of FATES WARNING’s masterpiece, “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray”. So, where do we begin, when we want to review such a piece of work from one of the most underrated Prog Metal bands ever? Not an easy task if you ask me, even if the music recorded here is as good as it can get in this style.
When I first heard of the fact that “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray” would be an one single 50 minutes track, I was quite sceptic yet intrigued on how it would sound at the end. Well, let me put this straight, my main complaint about this album (and the explanation of my 8, instead of a 10 for a masterpiece) is about the 50 minutes thing. The problem is that the song isn’t really lasting 50 minutes, but, like the track titles suggest, more of an amalgam of parts joined together. To often, the main link between parts will be a fade out of the track, some keyboard effect, then a fade in of the next track. That would be, at the end, my only issue about this incredible work. Speaking of keyboard, they are done by Kevin Moore, which is known for is work with a not so known Prog Metal Band, DREAM THEATHER (oh well, sorry for this bad attempt of a joke).
This album also features the first appearance of Joey Vera (AMORED SAINT) and the departure of Frank Aresti and Joey Dibiase, leaving Jim Matheos sole original member of the band. The playing of Vera is subtle in some part, yet strong and important in other, as he takes the lead in one of my favourite part, using a repeating riff that just sticks to your head.
The album has some heavy parts, but the most incredible thing about it are the more atmospheric, emotional parts, that put the emphasis on Ray Alder’s vocals. He sings his heart out on “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray”. The lyrics are also quite dramatic, dealing with the story of someone’s life and all that goes with it, work, love, problem, deception, etc.
Jim Matheos, main writer of the band, on the other hand delivers a stunning guitar performance, with some great soloing that will stick to your mind. I’ve kept my favourite part of this album for the end, but he’s not the least important element of the band: Mister Mark Zonder! What this guy does on his drum set is simply out of this world. I fairly think he’s not human. This is what a really call Prog Metal drum playing. There is always a twist in his playing that makes you wonder each time how in the world can he do it.
In my humble opinion, a true fan of Prog Metal that doesn’t own FATES WARNING’s “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray” doesn’t not deserve to be called such a fan. (Online March 3, 2004)