The members of Fates Warning are a busy bunch; though not always with that band itself.
Due to distractions from numerous side-projects, Fates Warning had not released a studio album since 2004, and likely had some fans wondering if the group—one of the founders of the progressive metal genre—would ever put out new music.
That changed this September, as founding guitarist/songwriter Jim Matheos and vocalist Ray Alder unveiled Darkness In A Different Light. Former axeman Frank Aresti and longtime bassist Joey Vera are back on board, along with powerhouse drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Iced Earth, Riot), who has toured with Fates Warning since 2007.
For Darkness In A Different Light, the band aimed to make a muscular, guitar-oriented record, ignoring keyboards and samplers this time around. The result is a heavy, hypnotic gem that boasts power riffs, soaring vocals, and the top-notch musicianship for which the group has always been known.
I spoke with Alder just after Fates Warning completed a European tour, as the frontman was gearing up for a November/December trek across the United States. The full transcript of our conversation follows:
How did the European shows go?
It was great. We always have a good time in Europe, but it was different going back with a new album. We didn't know how the new songs would be received. But it was fantastic—the new songs went over great, and the fans were amazing.
The fans are probably thrilled to have some new material, as you recently released the first Fates Warning album since 2004. Why was this the right time to put out a new record?
Well, we'd been wanting to do one for a long time. But we've been doing a lot of other projects. I have two other bands; Jim has [progressive rock group] OSI, as well as other projects. Things just got away from all of us. It was one project after another. Jim and I finally sat down and said that we need to stop everything else we're doing and write for this album. And we stopped everything else and just concentrated on writing the new record. Once we actually sat down and did that, it went pretty quickly.
When you focused all your attention on writing for the new album, things just sort of flowed from there?
Yeah, absolutely. But that's the way a lot of things are. If your mind is somewhere else, you're not going to do your best on one thing. This way, we were completely focused on doing nothing but writing and recording this album.
Fates Warning has been around a long time and is a very influential band in the progressive metal scene. What groups do you consider to be some of your influences, since you really helped create something unique back when you started?
Actually, I don't tend to listen to a lot of prog stuff myself. I grew up listening to the typical Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions. Black Sabbath was my favorite. I knew Jim grew up listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer, Blue Oyster Cult; he was way into that. He also likes Porcupine Tree.
Are there any particular vocalists you're influenced by?
When I was growing up and first starting out, Steve Perry was probably my main guy. He and Rob Halford are my favorite singers in the world. And John Arch, the old singer for Fates Warning. I love Steve Perry. His delivery was great, with that smoky tone. My voice gets smokier the more I smoke cigarettes! (Laughs)
Ray, you co-wrote most of the songs on Darkness In A Different Light—you did more writing for this album than the last few releases. Could you talk about what inspires your lyrics?
Obviously, they all come from somewhere deep within. Over the last nine years, a lot has gone on in my life, whether it be relationships or somebody coming and going. So, I drew from that. A lot of the new songs deal with relationships that didn't work out. I just kind of went from there.
Over the years, I've kind of been writing different things in notebooks. I have a stack of notebooks that I go to, depending on the mood I'm in. Generally, my songs are very personal to me. It's a dark and strange place in my head sometimes (laughs). It's hard to be able write things that other people can relate to.
This is Bobby's first studio album with Fates Warning, even though he's toured with you for quite some time. Can you talk about what he brought to the album?
I honestly can't say enough about the guy. I really think he's one of the best drummers I've ever heard. He can play anything in any situation and play it well. He played in Halford and Sebastian Bach's band. He even plays in a country band in San Antonio, Texas, right now. There's a lot of different time signatures in our music and he can pull it off.
As far as this album is concerned, we knew we had good songs, but when he came in to add his drum tracks, everything changed. He was just amazing. He added so much to the songs.
What are your touring plans for the record?
I want to tour as much as we can. I told the other guys in the band, “I don't want to be home next year! All I want is to be on the road.”
Your vocals on the new album sound great. When you're on tour, how do you keep your voice in shape so it can be at its best for shows every night?
It's hard. For example, in Europe we have an option of using a tour bus or getting hotel rooms and driving the next day. We opted for hotel rooms. A lot of the gigs are close enough that we could just drive three or four hours, or sometimes we're flying. But sometimes we're only getting three hours of sleep a night. You're going to bed at four in the morning and you're meeting in the lobby at 7:30 to catch a plane. And if you're doing that five days in a row, it takes its toll.
On tour, the main thing for me is to try to sleep as much as you can, and no drinking. I love to drink as much as the next guy, but for a singer it's the absolute worst thing you can do. It dehydrates you and erodes your voice.
The band has received a lot of acclaim for the classic 1991 album, Parallels, which is considered an important record in the progressive metal world. Looking back, what do you feel made that record resonate with so many people?
It's funny, because Jim wrote everything on that album—every lyric and every piece of music. It's like I said earlier, it helps to just concentrate on one thing, and that's what that album was.
We were in Toronto for six months working on that record, with Jim writing it and giving us pieces, and we would go to the rehearsal studio and work on it. We were all there without interruptions and had absolute concentration, and I think that's what made the album as special as it is. They're still the most popular songs we play live.
Once you create an album that's considered a classic, does it pose a challenge for a band, in the sense that your subsequent records will always be compared to that classic one?
It does always stick in the back of your mind. The idea with Darkness In A Different Light was to do something similar to Parallels, not necessarily musically, but in theory. Catchy songs, big choruses—that was the idea. Sure, we sometimes think that we won't ever make an album as big as Parallels, but I think our new album is different than anything else out there right now. We look to the future.
Fates Warning perform at The Studio At Webster Hall Nov. 23, Dingbatz Nov. 24, and Revolution in Amityville, NY on Nov. 26. Darkness In A Different Light is available now from Inside Out Music. For more details, visit fateswarning.com.