"Perfect Symmetry" is the 5th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Fates Warning. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in August 1989. Fates Warning was formed in 1982 under the Misfit monicker but changed to their current name in 1984. They underwent quite a musical development on the first four albums, starting out a traditional heavy metal act on "Night on Bröcken (1984)", to a US power/progressive inclined metal act on "The Spectre Within (1985)" and "Awaken the Guardian (1986)", to a hybrid US power/thrash/progressive metal act on "No Exit (1988)". Between the release of the latter two, there was a change on the lead vocalist spot as original singer John Arch was replaced by Ray Alder. A lineup change that brought a significant change to their sound. On "Perfect Symmetry" a new drummer was introduced as original drummer Steve Zimmerman was replaced by Mark Zonder (Warlord). A lineup change that would also have great impact on Fates Warning´s sound.
Stylistically the music on "Perfect Symmetry" is melodic and technically well played progressive metal. It´s in many ways a very different sounding album to "No Exit (1988)", and it´s safe to say that Fates Warning had again developed their sound greatly between album releases. First off the addition of Mark Zonder brings an off-beat fusion influenced and very original sounding drumming style to the band´s sound. His playing is subtle, clever, and very technical. Zimmerman was a rather "stiff" and standard type 80s metal drummer, and he didn´t bring anything out of the ordinary to the table, while Mark Zonder on the other hand revolutionized not only Fates Warning´s sound, but progressive metal drumming in general. Of course along with other influential drummers like Neil Peart (Rush), Rick Colaluca (Watchtower), and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater)...among others. Secondly Fates Warning had shed almost any traditional heavy metal and US power metal leaning at this point and "Perfect Symmetry" is to my ears their first "straight" progressive metal release.
The material on the 8 track, 42:05 minutes long album are all very well written and intriguing examples of progressive metal. The tracks are varied both between tracks and within tracks. It´s heavy, melodic, technical, subtle, mellow, hard edged, beautiful, and melancholic. The melancholic atmosphere actually often turns bleak, and tracks like "Part Of The Machine", "Static Acts", "A World Apart", and "Nothing Left To Say" are pretty gloomy. In the other end of the spectrum you have a track like "Through Different Eyes", which features a chorus that touches mainstream territory (a promotional video was released for this track), and the beautiful melodic "Chasing Time", which features violin parts played by Faith Fraeoli. The violin is also in use on "At Fates Hand", which also features a keyboard guest appearance by Kevin Moore (who at the time played in Dream Theater). I´d like to point out how fantastic that particular track is, but that can be said about each and every track on the album. All of them are high quality compositions and there is not a single drop in quality throughout the album. It could be argued though that "Through Different Eyes" doesn´t quite fit in with the rest of the material (it´s closer in style to the tracks featured on the next couple of album) and that it disturbs the flow of the album, but personally I think it´s great for the overall diversity of "Perfect Symmetry".
The musicianship is absolutely brilliant, with standout performances by each member of the band. I´ve already praised new drummer Mark Zonder for his skills and inventive playing ideas, but the rest of the members of the lineup also deserve a mention. Ray Alder has developed his singing style since "No Exit (1988)" and now spices up his high pitched screaming vocals with the occasional vocal part in deeper registers and more mellow singing too. His performance is relatively varied here and the diversity of the material also gives him the opportunity to show different aspects of his vocal capabilities. Main composer Jim Matheos is as always subtle guitarist number one, while Frank Aresti delivers one great lead and solo after another. The clean guitar/distorted guitar dynamic which the two of them would develop upon and perfect over the course of the next two albums, is initiated here. Bassist Joe DiBiase shines several times during the albums playing time. As an example the second time the vers is played in "Part Of The Machine", DiBiase changes his bassline and plays what sounds like a lead melody under the rest of the instruments and vocals. Still very rhythmic and relatively subtle, but important in the bigger picture.
The sound production is raw and a bit cold, which suits the melancholic and bleak material well. It´s slightly thin sounding and could have prospered from a more bass heavy mix, but overall it´s a high quality production. So upon conclusion it´s hard not to be impressed and intrigued by "Perfect Symmetry". Everything from the compositions, the production, and the musicianship, scream high quality and originality. It truly is a unique and influential release and a 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.