|4.1 (1 votes):|
There’s something rather fascinating about the progression Fates Warning made early on in their career. Each year marked a huge step forward for the band and whereas their debut felt like an unimpressive record that didn’t share too much identity on its own, the band upgraded their sound circa The Spectre Within by sounding heavier, faster, busier and more complex. The band’s pinnacle was yet to take place, but how the band bettered themselves this much in just one year is rather remarkable.
The star of The Spectre Within is obviously John Arch; a nerdy sounding tenor whose voice had become rather unique here. His range should be obvious from the ways he climbs up octaves during the choruses of ‘’Traveler of Time’’ and ‘’The Apparition’’ and tones down with sinister effects on ‘’Kyrie Eleison’’ and ‘’Epitaph’’, yet he has more offer than just range. There’s also a humane quality to his voice that certain USPM singers lack (including Arch himself on Awaken the Guardian, where he’d sound more like a mystical creature that’s only present in fantasy tales). It’s an ideal combination and often makes the compositions challenging to grasp, yet very much rewarding when one does get familiar with them. The only downside that I can think of would be ‘’Orphan Gypsy’’, where the hasty vocals don’t match quite as well as they could with the busy riffing (even though the track’s chorus is a fine example of Fates Warning-esque catchiness; meaning it’s catchy for the band’s standards but not really catchy in the same way when compared to the choruses of, say, Ample Destruction-era Jag Panzer).
Besides the vocals, The Spectre Within offers a variety of superb riffing that’s rather unique; punchy, yet speedy they’re the basics for each composition and give these a unique character. ‘’Pirates of the Underground’’ highlights this pretty well; at first the track happily jumps back and forth through a series of speedy riffs before that groove-y breakdown riff introduces a sense of heaviness that feels very much inspired by early 80’s Sabbath. If that wasn’t enough yet, its climax gets reached by a good dose of crunchy power/thrash riffs flying into all directions – not unlike something you’d hear on Helstar’s Remnants of War, which would come out one year later. Indeed, pretty much every track on The Spectre Within has its own unique twists and turns that make them stand out from each other. ‘’Traveler in Time’’ sees John Arch’s vocal lines dance around the elaborated, although melodically crafted solos, while around the five minute that pounding riff presents itself with fury; a classic example of Fates Warning-esque heaviness. On a related note ‘’The Apparition’’ might as well demonstrates Fates Warning at their heaviest; by the time that threatening thrash break marks a shift in direction you could sense the clouds becoming much darker, yet by the John Arch steals the show through a series of self-harmonizing brilliance the sun reveals itself again. Indeed, mood-wise, this album reveals the flexibility Fates Warning had a real thing for during this era. You just never know what’s lurking around the corner, but it’s always something fascinating and when compared to Awaken the Guardian, The Spectre Within feels like a different experience altogether. Unlike its successor, this album just doesn’t provide as much escapism through fantasy and instead this record feels more confronting and grim. Even something like the speed metal rocket of ‘’Kyrie Eleison’’ is full of fright; from that apocalyptic introduction to the verses where Arch sounds as if he’s getting chased by death itself – it’s a good reminder that The Spectre Within definitely isn’t made for the faint hearted.
The Spectre Within is without a doubt pretty brilliant; close to perfection, even. That said I do prefer Awaken the Guardian as it sounds more compact than this album. ‘’Without a Trace’’ is the last number that sounds very obviously Maiden-inspired; a brisk dose of classic heavy metal that’s obviously the most straightforward tune of the album. Otherwise the aforementioned complexity might be a challenge for those new to Fates Warning and everything incredible about The Spectre Within basically gets summed up by the ending closer. ‘’Epitaph’’ sounds absolutely grandiose and sentimental; as if I’m on a journey towards the absolute end. First, there’s a monumental build up that sounds very much inspired by Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell once that rousing riff gets unleashed. Halfway through it reaches its peak through a series of panicky wails before a series of apathetic low-toned vocals quietly hover over the bleak landscape that gets evoked by the autumn-flavored acoustics. At last Arch fades into oblivion as if he’ll never be heard of again and I can’t help but think that this final segment would have suited Awaken the Guardian better – given how Arch wouldn’t get back at recording something until many years later. It’s clearly one of the best album closers on any USPM record that I can think of… absolutely stunning.
The Spectre Within marks an excellent transition between the amateurish debut and the arcane masterpiece that is Awaken the Guardian. As I’ve mentioned before it’s not exactly perfect unlike its successor, yet it’s pretty damn brilliant on its own and certainly some of the finest USPM out there that you must hear.
Release date: October 15th, 1985
Support your favorite magazine by donation to cover some webhosting expenses - that will be more than appreciated!
- Classic review: Sentenced “North from Here” [Spinefarm Records] - September 8, 2020
- Classic Review: Cathedral “Forest of Equilibrium” [Earache Records] - August 25, 2020
- Classic Review: Conception “Flow” [Noise Records] - August 24, 2020