Yer Metal Is Olde: Fates Warning – Disconnected

American progressive metal veterans Fates Warning have a new album dropping next week, so what better time than now to look back at one of their strongest recordings, 2000’s Disconnected? The band took a big chance on 1997’s A Pleasant Shade of Gray and it didn’t fully pay off, so the same lineup and producer (Terry Brown, of Rush fame) regrouped and refocused here, going back to individual songs with a unifying theme rather than a single album-length track. With more lyrical involvement from Ray Alder and a couple of interesting twists, Disconnected is in many ways an album similar for Fates Warning as Promised Land was for Queensrÿche: an underrated gem that, when one dives all the way in, is wonderful to listen to.

The album is bookended with instrumentals, featuring blasts of guitar that are stunning in their tonality and electronic ambience that prefaces and summarizes the album’s dark mood. As for the five songs with vocals, the heaviest are the two short ones, “One,” linked in the viddy below, and personal favorite “Pieces of Me,” both songs that demonstrate a facet of Fates Warning that is missed today. While current drummer (since 2007) Bobby Jarzombek is stellar, Mark Zonder took his craft to an entirely different level, exhibiting amazing feel and creative fills throughout. Zonder would sit through one more album (FWX) before relinquishing his throne. Beyond the drumming, though each of those songs possesses a menacing energy that belies the band’s virtuosity.

Also in evidence throughout is the moody effect Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater, soon after to form OSI) has on the music, with his impeccable taste in synth patches underpinning both of the short songs and the excellent lengthy tracks “Something From Nothing” and “Still Remains.” The first of those is dark and murky, loaded with electronics, while the second is one of the band’s best Ray Alder-era songs. It’s a sixteen-minute journey through all sorts of morose fields, and a perfect prog metal track. All band members shine, whether it’s Moore’s various keyboard sounds, Zonder’s adventurous fills, Vera’s growling bass, Matheos’ immaculate riffs, or Alder’s restrained vocals.

Jim Matheos is of course the master of underplaying. His impeccable tone and superb arrangements mean every song oozes with purpose, and even the weakest track here, “So,” is wonderful instrumentally; only the shouty chorus is aggravating after eight minutes. Matheos is a stellar, somehow underrated guitar player, and it’s his sense of restraint that lends these songs their ultimate mood and feel. Terry Brown brings it all together in a slickly-produced package, giving every instrument plenty of space and definition. Joey Vera, still not officially in the band at this point, underpins everything in solid fashion, and even gets to churn out some great bass riffs in “Still Remains.”

The oddest thing about Disconnected, especially for a progressive metal album, is the lack of guitar solos. However, the songs are so immaculately arranged that you might not even notice this had I not just told you. No guitar solos definitely makes this an anomaly within the genre, and shows the confidence Matheos had in the band as a whole to let the songs speak for themselves. Twenty years on, this is the one Fates Warning album I go back to with regularity. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

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