FATES WARNING — A Pleasant Shade Of Gray

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FATES WARNING - A Pleasant Shade Of Gray cover
3.98 | 56 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 1997


1. Part I (1:54)
2. Part II (3:25)
3. Part III (3:53)
4. Part IV (4:27)
5. Part V (5:24)
6. Part VI (7:28)
7. Part VII (4:51)
8. Part VIII (3:31)
9. Part IX (4:46)
10. Part X (1:19)
11. Part XI (3:35)
12. Part XII (9:18)

Total Time 58:38


- Ray Alder / Vocals
- Jim Matheos / Guitar, guitar synth
- Mark Zonder / Drums
- Joey Vera / Bass
- Kevin Moore / Piano, keyboards

- Bill Metoyer / Vocals (additional)
- Lydia Montagnese / Vocals (additional)
- Terry Brown / Vocals (additional)
- Lindsay Matheos / Vocals (additional)

About this release

Released: April 22nd, 1997
Label: Metal Blade Records (US), Massacre Records (Europe)

Bonus track:

13. Part II (remix version) (4:41)

Thanks to Stooge, Lynx33, UMUR, diamondblack for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

There comes a time in every bands career when they decide it's time to make changes to their sound. Some bands do it flawlessly, gaining new fans and keeping old ones. Other bands fail miserably, alienating everyone. 'A Pleasant Shade of Gray' by Fates Warning, is an example of a band doing it properly.

The bands previous albums were seeing a steady incline in quality and success, and there was no question that ‘Parallels’ and ‘Inside Out’ would be hard to top without sounding repetitive, but with ‘A Pleasant Shade of Grey’ the band really hit their stride as a "prog" band, with what I consider to be some of their greatest work.

Having lost one guitar, but gaining a keyboard in its place (in the form of ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore), Fates Warning take on a more progressive feel with their music. Gone are the metal songs of their previous releases, and in their place stands atmospheric, beautifully eerie pieces of music. There's still plenty of heavy riffs to keep faithful fans happy, but the album as a whole seems to have more focus on mood and ambience.

As always with this band, the musicianship is remarkable. Drummer Mark Zonder really takes the spotlight here, and Jim Matheos has written some of his most thoughtful guitar riffs, maintaining the complexity associated with this style of music, without having to rely on an endless barrage of notes jammed into every bar.

It's hard to point out any specific highlights, as the album works so much better as a single piece, rather than by its individual components. It's a concept album, you know how it is, right? It's not the sort of record which grows on you after one listen, but then, isn't that the sort of thing prog fans love about the genre?
"A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" is the 8th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Fates Warning. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in the US and through Massacre Records in Europe in April 1997. There have been two lineup changes since "Inside Out (1994)" as longtime bassist Joe Dibiase and lead guitarist Frank Aresti have jumped ship. The three remaining members (vocalist Ray Alder, guitarist/main composer Jim Matheos, and drummer Mark Zonder) opted to continue as a three piece but they are joined here by session musicians Joey Vera (Armored Saint) on bass and Kevin Moore (Dream Theater) on keyboards/piano.

"A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" is a concept album where all tracks seque into each other to form a 58:38 minutes long piece. The tracks are titled "Part I", "Part II"...and so forth. The atmosphere is bleak and reeks melancholy. Often delivered in a sort of monotone fashion which further emphasize the gloomy atmosphere. Monotone in this case doesn´t mean non-melodic or anything like that, but the music on "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" is still a far cry from the very melodic and to some degree sing along friendly last couple of albums.

There are actually quite a few differences between the music on this album an the music featured on "Parallels (1991)" and "Inside Out (1994)". On those two albums Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti explored and perfected their distorted/clean guitar style, where they would compliment each other playing clean and distorted guitars in layers. It´s a rather distinct sounding guitar style, which is abruptly ended on "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" as Fates Warning opted to continue with only one guitarist. The loss of Frank Aresti also means that "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" features very few guitar solos, which has otherwise been a trademark of Fates Warning´s sound on all seven previous studio albums. Another feature which has changed significantly compared to the last couple of albums, is the sparse use of backing and harmony vocals. On "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray", we´re predominantly exposed to Ray Alder´s naked voice.

What the listener gets instead is a more riff heavy sound (the bass is generally also more heavy than in the past), with a lot of keyboard contributions from Kevin Moore. The keyboards generally play a big role on "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray", with both electronic sounds, mellow piano parts, lead keyboard parts, and atmosphere enhancing floating chords. While there are several heavy riffs featured on the album, it´s generally a very dynamic release, which shifts between distorted and clean guitar parts and heavy and softer atmospheres. There´s also an ambient element which at times reminds me of "The Wall (1979)"-era Pink Floyd.

Fates Warning has opted for a pretty cold and clinical sounding production, which also sets "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" apart from it´s predecessors (especially the voice production sounds vastly different). It´s a very well sounding production though. Powerful, detailed, and professional.

Upon conclusion the material on "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" is of a high quality. It´s memorable, intriguing, and adventurous. The overall concept and the way the tracks seque into each other doesn´t always work as well as it could have, and to my ears there is a greater compositional coherence on the first part of the album compared to the last part, which sounds a bit more disjointed. Had the piece ended after the thrilling and emotional finale climax of "Part VI", it would have been an almost perfect progressive metal epic, but instead Fates Warning decided to continue the track for another 25 minutes or so. And don´t misunderstand me here, because those last 25 minutes are absolutely stunning in their own right (the 9:18 minutes long closing "Part XII" is for example quite a brilliant mini epic on it´s own), I would just have prefered that those last parts of the long concept piece had been broken down into individual tracks instead. I think it would have worked better. When that is said "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray" is still an incredibly unique sounding release filled to the brim with high quality material, high level musicianship, and a well sounding production. A 4.5 star (90%) is fully deserved.
Fates Warning's A Pleasant Shade of Gray earns points for ambition, presenting as it does a single multi-part song, but it fails to make that song compelling enough to hold my attention. In particular, I find the repetitive and tedious Part VIII so irritating that it ends up as a roadblock to my enjoyment of the piece as a whole. It's good that the band were trying to do something different - in particular, for a lot of the time the album is more sedate and sombre and less traditionally "metal" than most preceding Fates Warning work - but it isn't quite my cup of tea.
After two fairly commercial sounding albums that didn't bring the band the record sales they thought they would get the band made some major changes. Frank Aresti left but they didn't replace him feeling that one lead guitarist was enough. Then Joe DiBiasi left causing the band to bring in Joey Vera on bass. They also decided to change their style here making a more atmospheric album with less Metal. This is one long suite but divided into twelve sections. There are breaks between songs though and it doesn't always flow that well. Jim Matheos would write all the music and lyrics. Kevin Moore is back guesting on keyboards but this time he plays a more important role. Terry Brown is also back as the producer and Hugh Syme did the cover art once again. In the liner notes they thank Terry "How much grayer could it be ?" Brown showing that they got their desired results of a gray album. And they also thank "Mike Portnoy(an honourary Fates member)". That's pretty cool too. So yeah this is a return to the progressive leanings of "Perfect Symmetry" but this is certainly much different sounding than that one. I'm not as big a fan of this as many seem to be but for sure it's a 4 star album.
Time Signature
A pleasant type of music...

Genre: progressive metal, alternative metal/rock

"A Pleasant Shade of Gray" certainly is a very interesting Fates Warning album. This album is more or less the first step down the pathway of melancholy which characterizes subsequent albums (especially "FWX"), but it does lack the electronic approach of "FWX" and "Disconnected".

"A Pleasant Shade of Gray" is one ambient epic song which contains a lot of interesting parts. Musically it mixes simple Alice-in-Chains-style riffs with more comples FW-like progressive riffs. I guess it is more of an alternative rock/metal-meets-progressive-metal album than a pure progressivemetal album (if the concepts of "Pure" and "progressive" can even be combined).

Outstanding tracks are "Part III", "Part IV" with its beatiful lyrics and vocals, "Part V", which is a more traditional progressive metal track with a lot of quirky stuff in it, the symphonic couplet "Part VII"-"Part VIII", which are simultaneously melancholic and uplifting, and "Part 11" which is probably the heaviest track on the album.

I would recommend this album to fans of progressive metal and also fans of melancholic alternative rock who do not mind a bit of musical and technical acrobatics.

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