"Theories Of Flight" is the 12th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Fates Warning. The album was released through InsideOut Records in July 2016. It´s the successor to "Darkness In A Different Light" from 2013 and the second album after their 9 year long recording break since "FWX (2004)". "Theories Of Flight" features the exact same lineup who recorded "Darkness In A Different Light (2013)": Ray Alder (vocals), Jim Matheos (guitars), Frank Aresti (guitars, although only a couple of leads), Joey Vera (bass), and Bobby Jarzombek (drums).
Stylistically "Theories Of Flight" is pretty much a continuation of the progressive metal style on "Darkness In A Different Light (2013)". It´s generally a bit more melodic and to my ears also slightly more memorable, but the overall concept is similar to the predecessor. Heavy intriguing guitar riffs and rhythms, melodic solos, beautiful acoustic/clean guitar work, and Ray Alder´s strong emotive vocals in front (often featuring harmony and choir vocals).
The album feautures 8 tracks and a full playing time of 52:17 minutes. Both "The Light and Shade of Things" and "The Ghosts of Home" are around 10 minutes long, but the remaining tracks feature more regular lengths (from 4 to 6 minutes). The material is very well written and the combination of relatively straight forward and catchy tracks like "Seven Stars", "SOS", and "Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen", and the longer more complex tracks like the two above mentioned, and album opener "From the Rooftops", works really well. Now that I´ve mentioned almost every track featured on the album, I can just as well mention the remaining two. "White Flag" is a powerful track with a commanding vocal delivery by Alder and the title track, which is the album closer, is an atmospheric instrumental, which ends the album in great style.
It´s overall a very dynamic and adventurous album. One moment it´s melodic and beatiful and the next a bit darker and heavy. The trademark sophisticated Fates Warning groove, which features a lot of off-beat rhythm patterns and chord strokes, is also present and accounted for. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Alder is as mentioned an incredibly skilled and distinct sounding vocals, who can sing both emotive mellow parts and louder more aggressive ones (for the style), with equal passion and conviction, the rhythm section play varied and powerful, and the guitars both play melodic and heavy. The guitar solos deserve a special mention. They are played with a lot of attention to tone and feeling, and they are also pretty varied.
"Theories Of Flight" features a warm, clear, and powerful sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and I actually have a very hard time coming up with any issues regarding the album. To my ears it´s their best release in years, which is especially due to the increased focus on melody and accessibility that Fates Warning have here. A focal point which has not affected how heavy and powerful the music is, and that´s usually a hard balance to strike. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.
Note: There´s a limited edition 2CD/2LP version available, which features 6 bonus tracks. Acoustic versions of the band´s own compositions "Firefly", "Seven Stars", and "Another Perfect Day", and acoustic covers of "Pray Your Gods" by Toad The Wet Sprocket, "Adela" by Joaquin Rodrigo (with Alder singing Spanish language lyrics), and "Rain" by Uriah Heep. While acoustic renditions of existing non-acoustic material aren´t always the greatest idea, Fates Warning pull if off with ease. Beautiful acoustic guitar arrangements and a Ray Alder in vocal top form, ensure that these bonus tracks are well worth purchasing the limited edition for. I especially enjoyed "Firefly", "Another Perfect Day", and "Rain", but the remaining tracks are also of high quality.