"No Exit" is the 4th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Fates Warning. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in March 1988. There´s been one lineup change since "Awaken The Guardian (1986)", as lead vocalist John Arch has been replaced by Ray Alder. "No Exit" is also the last album to feature original drummer Steve Zimmerman.
The change on the lead vocalist spot has a major impact on the band´s sound, which was more or less inevitable considering how distinct sounding and important John Arch was on the first three Fates Warning albums. When the change needed to happen, they couldn´t have found a better replacement than Ray Alder though. He is a significantly different sounding vocalist with a very different sounding voice and delivery to his predecessor, but still manage to fit in with Fates Warning´s music from day one.
It´s not only on the lead vocalist spot, that the band have changed. The atmosphere of the music is now darker and the music is at times pretty hard edged, almost bordering thrash metal rawness. The fantasy lyrical themes of the past are now also toned down considerably in favour of lyrics dealing with more personal emotional issues. "No Exit" is in that respect a landmark release in the band´s discography. It´s also a pretty unique release in their discography because already on their next album ("Perfect Symmetry (1989)"), they made significant changes to their sound again.
"No Exit" features 6 tracks. The opening title track is a short intro and the next 4 tracks are regular length (between 3 and 5 minutes long) tracks. The album closes with the 21:58 minutes long "The Ivory Gate Of Dreams". A multi-suite epic divided into 8 parts, and by far the most progressive oriented track in the band´s discography up until then. While there are reoccuring themes throughout the long track, it´s obvious that the 8 parts weren´t necessarily written to be played in succession, and some of the shifts between sections, are slightly awkward sounding. When that is said, it´s still a brilliant progressive metal track featuring memorable melodies, hard edged heavy/thrashy riffing, epic moments, and beautiful acoustic sections.
The sound production is more professional sounding and more powerful than the sound production on "Awaken The Guardian (1986)", so it´s definitely a step up in that department. There are still some production issues like the distorted guitar tone, which isn´t always that well sounding, and the reverb laden snare drum sound, but those are minor issues, and they don´t mean "No Exit" isn´t overall a well sounding album.
Upon conclusion "No Exit" is another high quality release in Fates Warning´s discography and a shiny example of 80s progressive metal (guitar/vocal driven progressive metal). The traditional heavy metal and thrash metal elements are still very dominant in the band´s sound, but they´ve incorporated more progressive ideas to their music and "No Exit" is generally a very intriguing progressive metal album with a dark atmoshere. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.