Fates Warning – The Spectre Within (1985)
With Germans busy devastating the walls of Jericho, American contributions to what would become power metal are… surprisingly, not that different! Fates Warning shares similar influences to much of the scene, but they took some wild turns of songwriting that have people (validly) referring to their discography as formative progressive metal. John Arch‘s vocals are the first attraction here as on any recording he’s done, but those who pay attention and delve into the actual recording will find a band more than willing to back him up and play to his strengths.
The Spectre Within is cleanly cut between two types of tracks – complex epics on par with the progressive rock of the 1970s onwards (on this album’s sequel, Awaken the Guardian, the entire emphasis will be on such) and simpler tracks oriented towards velocity and intensity. Both of these favor many of the same musical techniques, so even when the songwriting varies, the album’s sticks to its guitars, bass, drums, etc. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that John Arch has the most ‘adventurous’ parts on this album; compared to Sympathetic Resonance some decades later he might sound a bit fuller and stronger, but the real difference is that he’s in a lighter, more upbeat genre this time – here, he hits higher pitches and does some multitracked harmonies at times. It fits the mood of the music, at the very least.
Besides two songwriting approaches, The Spectre Within also has two souls, and these don’t necessarily correspond to the differences in compositions. Much has been written about the split in underground metal between darker, ‘extreme’ recordings and lighter, more optimistic styles, but in terms of theme, the two aren’t always so clear cut. The Spectre Within pulls in two directions – upbeat, even occasionally heroic sounding content (such as “Pirates of the Underground”, literally an ode to metal itself) is interspersed with darker, even morbid songs; the album also ends on that note via the gloomy “Epitaph”. I don’t know enough about the band’s internal dynamics in 1985 to say whether they had anything to do with this. Either way, it’s probably worth noting that this may just be an attempt by the band to vary up the recordings on their album (Occam’s razor), or perhaps part of the songwriting developments that we’d see even on the next album (…by the way, Occam shaved with a dual-bladed razor).
You just can’t get away from the fact John Arch defined Fates Warning during his tenure with the band – note the significant change in direction when he left and was replaced with Ray Alder. As someone who thinks John Arch’s vocal talents transmute everything they touch to gold… I am not alone – on Encyclopedia Metallum, The Spectre Within is one of the most positively reviewed albums! While you shouldn’t take opinions as facts, it is a fact that I recommend this album based on my opinions of its various aspects.
Highlights: “Orphan Gypsy”, “Without a Trace”, “The Apparition”