Arch/Matheos… I suppose for some of you these are just two names on an album cover. For others they evoke goose bump causing memories and flashes of musical brilliance from 25 years ago.
If you get excited as I do when seeing these names then you’re either old like me or a well versed student of Prog Metal history. Vocalist/lyricist John Arch and guitarist/composer Jim Matheos were the creative backbone of the pioneering Prog Metal band Fates Warning.
You may know Fates Warning better with Ray Alder at the mic and Ray is a great singer, but John Arch is truly unique.
Shortly after releasing ‘Awaken The Guardian’ in 1986, Fates parted ways with Arch and he vanished. For 17 years no one saw or heard him and while he was gone the genre that he helped to create grew and flourished. Bands like Dream Theater (for whom he reluctantly auditioned) and Tool became immensely popular and hundreds more helped to build Prog Metal into a strong sub-genre that’s still expanding and evolving to this day.
Arch did make a brief appearance with Matheos in 2003 with a two-track half-hour long EP, but it was little more than a tease because as quick as he appeared he was gone again. Matheos of course stayed busy off and on with Fates and other side projects like OSI with Dream Theater alumni Kevin Moore. But the combination of Jim’s composing and guitar playing along with John’s lyrics and vocals was always something special.
That brings us to 2010 when Jim has a few ideas kicking around for new Fates album. (Un)fortunately Ray Alder was unable to commit to a recording date, so Jim sent the demos over to John to see if he was interested. A few months later John had written lyrics and added vocals to what would soon become Sympathetic Resonance.
The most impressive thing to me about this project is how little Arch’s voice has changed since 1986. The second you hear his voice on the opening track ‘Neurotically Wired’ you’re transported back to 1986. Seriously, the vocals could have been recorded during the ‘Awaken The Guardian’ sessions.
Musically Jim has grown and this album incorporates both his Fates sound and some elements of the proggier OSI. But wait, that guitar solo… is it… could it be? Yes, it’s another ex member of Fates Warning, guitarist Frank Aresti! Holy crap this just keeps getting better.
If the band was rounded out by Joe DiBiase on bass and Steve Zimmerman on drums I guess you’d have a full fledged Fates Warning reunion. As it stands we have the more than capable rhythm section of Joey Vera and Bobby Jarzombek on bass and drums respectively.
I can’t explain to you how happy this music makes me. I’ve been listening to it now for a few weeks and every time I hear it I grin like an idiot. When Arch belts out the line, “in the eyes of a child” at the seven minute mark of ‘Neurotically Wired’ I just lose it. No one writes vocal melodies like this, no one. His upper register is acrobatic without being showy and his vibrato is spot on tone perfect. The songs are so well arranged that you don’t even realize that most of them are over ten minutes. Clearly there’s no shortage of ideas here.
‘Midnight Serenade’ is something of a power ballad and manages to combine atmosphere, power and aggression all without losing the hooky chorus. ‘Stained Glass Sky’ starts with a blistering instrumental intro originally written as a stand alone piece now taking on new life as the first third of the longest track on the album at almost 14 minutes.
The middle section was released as an edit by Metal Blade a few months before the album itself came out. For most it was the first glimpse into this project and it got us all salivating. Dissolving into an acoustic guitar part the song starts to wind down before exploding back to life and interweaving everything together for a finale worthy of a great symphony.
‘On The Fence’ is a mid tempo contemplative tune that allows one to take a breather before delving back into the well crafted chaos of ‘Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me).’ Arch just has a way of marrying perfect lyrics with serpentine vocal melodies that sound like nothing you’ve ever heard.
Album closer ‘Incense and Myrrh’ is another exquisite display of these melodies and the lyrics flow effortlessly from Arch as if he’s channeling them directly from his soul. We’re treated to the twin guitars of Matheos and Aresti once again as everything builds to a climax of words and music. The music fades, but the smile remains and you can’t play it again soon enough.