Arch/Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance (2011)
This is one of the shinier releases of 2011 – basically progressive metal in the vein of Dream Theater. Even the cover art fits this description, abstract direction aside. Ironically, it’s quite far from the output title members’ alumnus band (Fates Warning), at least while John Arch was still in it. Sympathetic Resonance is primarily composed of mid-paced, lengthy songs with lots of “groovy” offbeats, under which one of the most early influential power metal vocalists (John Arch, for those who weren’t paying attention) sings in his trademark fashion.
Comparisons to Fates Warning aside, this album is quite chorus heavy, given that the compositions and marketing emphasize the vocals. John Arch does not have what I would call great “tone” – he can hit very high notes, but his vocals have a nasally undertone to them. However, Arch’s vox are very nimble – he sings difficult lines that serve as distinct counterpoint to the instrumental sections. This has always been his strength, and frankly, his vocal approach has not changed (with the possible exception of the occasional lower note) since the 1980s. Either way, it adds a great deal of interest to the album and saves many sections that might otherwise have been underwhelming.
Although Arch is justifiably the star of this album, his bandmates don’t slack off. I mentioned the lengthy songs earlier – the band is experienced enough to make them work and not meander off into incoherent muddle. To be fair, outside their length, these songs don’t stray too far outside the verse-chorus approach you’d expect of a more traditional rock/metal band, but the longer ones (more accurately, most of them) tend to have long sections of bridge between each repetition. Arguably you could expect more from a band labeled as proggy, but I digress. Jim Matheos, the guitarist (and only consistent member of Fates Warning through all its lineups) provides much of the rhythmic glue here, which is important in an album with as much groove and syncopation as this one. Compared to his work in Arch-era Fates Warning, it’s not as melodic, trading in the occasionally ethereal qualities of that band for a more bluesy approach. I was surprised too when I began to hear that underlying this album, although I really shouldn’t have been given how this sort of prog doesn’t stray all that much from its rock roots.
You could do a lot worse for a vocal-heavy progressive metal album; the big players on this side of the aesthetic are probably operating at a similar level, but I can’t actually say. I’d make comparisons to Dream Theater, but Awake did not exactly encourage me to search out that band’s later work.
Highlights: “Midnight Serenade”, “Stained Glass Sky”, “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)”