SummarySappy artistic metal
|2.6 (1 votes):|
There’s something about the directions Fates Warning took throughout the 90’s that just doesn’t sit well with me. Parallels marked the start of the band’s lightweight period and follow-up Inside Out at least had some more edge to it (especially in the vocal department). Enter A Pleasant Shade of Gray, which sees the band ditching all the catchier hooks they started to embrace in the early 90’s.
On paper A Pleasant Shade of Gray should be ideal and given the album’s construction, one might wonder if Fates Warning hadn’t decided to exchange sentimentality for a sense of intellect again. I’m tempted to claim that A Pleasant Shade of Gray does manage to bring out the progressive metal out Fates Warning again, but only to a certain degree. A variety of “rocking” moments do occur, but it never takes long before something sappy follows up. There are still many clean guitar sections summoned, now mixed with a variety of electronic effects as well as keyboard passages (provided by no one else than Kevin Moore), but I’d be lying even I found this record’s softer side appealing at all. Clean guitars wander without purpose and don’t even come close to evoking any sort of emotion as they did on the band’s earlier stuff, while electronic effects sound as if they’re added to fill this boring void of nothingness. Kevin Moore, who is a decent keyboardist on his own, hardly manages to standout and even Ray Alder, who had was doing technically well at this point, sounds rather inconsistent; at times he sounds soulful and delivers range with a clear amount of control, but even the softest vocal lines have become embarrassing at this point. If you ever wondered what he’d sound like once singing a lullaby, no look no further than “Part IX” of this album – the results are nearly five minutes that are enjoyable as having a stare contest into midday sun without wearing any sunglasses.
The heavier bits are far better and demonstrate that A Pleasant Shade of Gray certainly had the potential to work out fine. Jim Matheos had his better moments many albums prior, sure, but there’s something appealing about those rock-solid grooves and even the occasional jamming-like segments remind me somewhat of Fates Warning’s most enjoyable progressive moments from 1989 to 1994. The partial gloomy, yet slightly industrial-esque punch of “Part III” sees A Pleasant Shade of Gray taking a turn for the best with its unique and interesting contrasts. “Part V” even manages to create some tension as the track progresses, thanks to the labyrinthine guitar chops, even if I could have done with more of an octave climbing Ray Alder than a restrained Ray Alder. “Part XI” sounds like a rocking piece that’s another good one and hell, it’s probably the most fun A Pleasant Shade of Gray has to offer. To my surprise, even the chugging, yet moody “Part XII” manages to work towards a climax. It starts off slowly with Ray Alder’s gently singing over some moody chords, makes a change once Joe Vera’s punchy bass presents itself and from thereon, turns into a chugging, yet welcoming finale segment.
It’s frustrating, because despite the occasional moments of glory, there are enough tracks that make it hard to sit through this thing. Certain parts are a little better once they get going, but also feature their moments of blandness that make them lose appeal. “Part IV” doesn’t take long before a cool riff makes a crazy dance, but things quickly change for the worst and instead you end up with some silly lines of Ray Alder, even if the track makes a return to the signature riffing Jim Matheos had embraced one album prior as the track progresses onward. “Part VIII” highlights Kevin Moore’s keyboard skills and while the track promises some action and tension, things don’t even maintain interest for an entire minute. Then again, what should I expect with a wonky introduction that doesn’t promise much at all? A Pleasant Shade of Gray is a serious pain in the ass to sit through.
I’ve given A Pleasant Shade of Gray several spins over the years, but have come to the conclusion that it’s just not for me. But then again, what do I really know? Perhaps I’m just not intellectual enough to get this album at all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll give Awaken the Guardian another spin again, which has more in common with a fucking cartoon than anything artistic, but at least it’s one of the greatest things ever. A Pleasant Shade of Gray is not.
Release date: April 22nd, 1997
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