Darkness In A Different Light is the first album in nearly a decade from prog legends Fates Warning. Arriving on the heels of 2011s Arch/Matheos project (a Fates Warning album in all but name), Darkness features most of the same lineup except with longtime vocalist Ray Alder back at the mic. Guitarist Frank Aresti makes his first appearance on a Fates record since the early ’90s, and the rhythm section now includes Joey Vera on bass (Armored Saint) and journeyman drummer Bobby Jarzombek. Of course, founding guitarist/songwriter/main guy Jim Matheos is present as well.
“One Thousand Fires” makes the band’s intentions known right from the get-go, with an opening assault of tricky rhythms followed by Alder delivering the title with gusto. “Firefly” is the obvious single, straightforward and super-catchy, but it’s so well done that you can’t really fault the band for writing it. “I Am” is another highlight, boasting some effective quiet-loud dynamics, prominent bass work from Vera, and a chorus that’s sure to get the blood pumping. Traces of Tool, newer Dream Theater,  and even Meshuggah crop up, proving that while these guys may have been away, they were still paying attention.
Aside from those obvious winners, the deep cuts are damn good as well. “Into The Black” is a textbook lesson on how to write a good progressive metal song. “Kneel & Obey” does drag a bit, and “Lighthouse” goes nowhere, but they create a mood, whatever that’s worth. The obligatory 14-minute epic “And Yet It Moves” may be a tad over-ambitious, and a few parts feel like they belong to separate songs, but the overall scope of it is still damn impressive. I kind of wish some of that Arch/Matheos material had been saved for this album instead — if you swapped out “Lighthouse” for a crusher like “Any Given Day,” it would’ve put this album over the top. Comparisons aside, there’s still a shit-ton of excellent music on here, so no complaints.
It’s surprising how catchy these songs are, despite all the odd time signatures and musical trickery going on here. Fates Warning has made some albums that are notoriously hard to digest — most of them, actually — but this one is both accessible and memorable, without sacrificing any of the band’s complexity or style. Alder’s voice has dropped over the years, and while this means he can’t hit those nut-crushing high notes anymore, he now has a rich tenor range that’s much more pleasant to listen to (side note: Alder is the only singer I know of who freely admits that his voice has changed, which I respect the hell out of). And as usual, Matheos and Aresti keep things interesting with plenty of tasty, melodic lead guitar work.
The direction Fates Warning takes on Darkness is intriguing to me. In an era where progressive rock is suddenly cool, they could have easily made an album full of technical wankery and shreddy solos, and Dream Theater nerds would’ve eaten it up. Instead, they chose to go heavier, darker, and more direct. Yeah, the music is still plenty complex, but it’s hardly just for show. There’s a full-on embrace of modern metal, evident in the earth-scraping riffs and Jarzombek’s double-bass work. That forward-thinking approach, combined with some of the most focused songwriting since the Parallels era, makes for a compelling listen.