Dino Hollywood Reviews “Sympathetic Resonance”
ReAwaken The Guardian – Arch/Matheos – “Sympathetic Resonance”
Imagine one of your favorite albums of all time was released over 25 years ago and the chief instigators of that imagination ensnaring creation parted ways in its wake. Picture if time and introspection only served to exalt their work canonizing its sorcery to some eternal well of youth, a realm where it still holds transcendent sway. Now, what if the stars were to align and the forces that once conspired to manipulate such memorable magic reunited all these years later with the intention of a brand new collaborative effort. How high or low might your expectations be of the outcome of that reunion? Would it be reasonable to expect diminishing returns on your emotional investment or a return to form?
No, I’m not writing about Van Halen. The band in question was and remained Fates Warning (prog-metal pioneers and Metal Blade Records longest running act) even after original singer/lyricist John Arch opted out of continuing on and was replaced with highly capable yet markedly more traditional high-end savant Ray Alder. That Fates Warning went on to make 7 records without Arch and while all are considerable achievements that expand the horizons of metal on their own terms, John Arch’s spell continued to beckon us back to that original lineup’s working-class ascent from devout Iron Maiden disciples to prog-metal deities. This transformation spanned three albums and was set in stone with the release of the masterwork and yardstick of note. “Awaken The Guardian” is a cauldron of raw atmospherics and dark dynamics coupled with unorthodox melodic movement and metaphorical lyrical strands that unravel the timely contextual fabric backwards toward myth. You could tell even then (1986), a new classicism was being established and an esoteric complexity was being etched into metal lore.
So here we are 25 years later and the two men behind the spellbinding and mystically unique “Awaken The Guardian” John Arch (vocalist/lyricist extraordinaire) and Jim Matheos (Guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire) respectively have released a new album entitled “Sympathetic Resonance” under the moniker “Arch/Matheos”. Since the name “Fates Warning” is now rightfully reserved for the Ray Alder fronted incarnation, to outsiders, this new venture may seem like the side project that the ego-centric band name suggests but to those in the know, this is the new/old Fates Warning record. So back to the question of expectations… The fact that both representations of Fates wield a magic that is unmistakable yet so dissimilar is all thanks to the maestro Jim Matheos, and by virtue of my absolute admiration for the progressive prowess of his catalog and his unconventional yet unerring compositional sense my expectations were sky-high. However, mindful of the illusory lense of nostalgia and the fact that John Arch had so long ago stepped out of the squared circle so to speak, reservations arose stemming from what retired wrestlers refer to as “ring-rust”.
In less than 30 seconds “Sympathetic Resonance” reduces any such suspicions of age-induced degeneration to dust. First, the initiating lull of acoustic arpeggiation instantly evokes the enchanted medieval landscape Fates Warning once called home before Matheos struck out for more progressive and worldly pastures. Next Arch intimately intones, “God, I pray for you, quite the task at hand…” as though steeling himself for an unforeseen journey by stepping ever so slightly back into the bubbling cauldron. But by the end of that passage the vat has boiled over at the sound of thunder-crack guitars tearing at the heavens as Bobby Jarzombek’s unpredictable, god-like precision percussion batters down like rain betwixt lightening crash accents that illuminate just how dramatically the metal landscape has altered since 1986. There’s no way to enter this ravaged realm on tip toes. And with that, John Arch rises from molten ash with his tenor in tact, ascending the plane once again and lending all beneath him an abstract grace. It is a moment I was unprepared for; as the wordless melody surges upward, a tide of odd time snares considers holding it at bay only to abate, bowing in undertow to the crest of Arch’s highest and most hopeful note. Thus begins “Neurotically Wired” an 11 minute metal monster prone to maddening mood swings. The innumerable, impassioned movements are possessive of the precise controlled directionless the title dictates. This chaos on a leash approach is only approachable through command performance and because every member of this troop operates at an absurd level of technical proficiency capable of engendering even the most progressive of passages a palpable ebb and flow. If the listener is left shell-shocked, it’s not by bombardment but attribute of arrangement. Every corridor of this composition is host to the unwieldiest of shadows cast diffusely over harrowing twists that a less experienced Fates Warning would have been irresponsible to dare traverse. The fact that John Arch navigates the advanced terrain so nimbly not only extolls the work of his far more battle-hardened brethren but inspires elation. The climbing chorus of “Rise higher, open your heart wide. All of your demons will finally fade away!” could not be suitable more as he rises to the occasion to surpass his earlier self’s highest watermark by the song’s end.
“Neurotically Wired” essentially sets the bar, tone and pace of a meta-contextual mystic journey, that returns to find the familiar has grown more dire and what was once home is now a haunted labyrinth. Lyrically, this is evidenced by the desperate prayer our protagonist begins with and the lack of solace it summons. The resulting references from Shakespeare to Edgar Allan Poe, from nursery rhymes to proverbs conjure a seemingly autobiographical milieu of apparitions. There’s a specificity to the fairy-tales and classics chosen and how they are re-purposed to assault the psyche. This strand turns overtly self-referential, during the monumental “Stained Glass Sky” the second section of which starts with the line, “Morning desert sun horizon. Rise above the sands of time. Come journey to Arcana. Travel starry spheres in trine…” the very same opening stanza from the now classic “Exodus” from the aforementioned “Awaken The Guardian”. With John Arch there has always been an awareness of the poetic metaphor but here there’s a revelry in it that suggests “Sympathetic Resonance” actuates a more intimate personal trajectory than even “Awaken” strove for. This is another aspect of and example of how this album surmounts such unfair and loaded expectations. When incanting lines as unorthodox as, “Shreds of truth in the sacred stratum embroidered with iniquities.” it helps that passion places those notes. Arch’s natural ability to marry an elusive yet harmonious nuance to a blisteringly helter-skelter musical cross-section is frankly benumbing. But that’s what “Sympathetic Resonance” is; a musical phenomenon wherein one vibration responds to another of its harmonic likeness. The difficulty discerning a harmonic convergence in the midst of disorder is an over-arching theme handled exquisitely.
This conceptualization extends to the tracking which is conducted in a manner that treats the conflicted collection of songs as a suite, counterpointing more imposing passages by way of more linear paths like the gargantuan but relatively stoic “Midnight Serande”. In the grand scheme, this allows for serene moments of intense calm to draw breath from before radical time and space displacement atomize the orchestration to explosive effect. “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)” draws the most distinction out of this musical dichotomy and cements this lineup’s progressive pliability as unassailable. Though some may find this album overly esoteric or showy, connoisseurs of progressive metal should find it tasteful and melodically sentient and that’s certainly the impression it intends to depart with. “Incense And Myrrh” is the simplest, most somber offering, one that quells the anxiety ridden and itinerant musical threads while stitching a string of omnipresent lyrical ideas into a tragic quilt. In reassembling and reconciling the “diary of dead memories” from “On The Fence” with “The Keeper” of “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)” or the sanctuary of “Midnight Serenade” and the religious iconography of “Stained Glass Sky” with the indoctrinated child of “Neurotically Wired” we return to the restless mind of our protagonist. Only this time, his intimation no longer resembles a prayer but a gut-wrenching plea for mercy, “Halo of empathy, shine on me. Bleed for the inner child, like the wild rose, it has wilted away.” To close on a note of this psychological magnitude and a line as dark as, “The candle fades as a part of me has died,” it may seem that we’ve strayed a remarkable distance from Awaken The Guardian’s transformative and relatively heartening coda but it’s more likely one exists to protect us from the other. “Sympathetic Resonance” illuminates the “mortal asylum” that “The Guardian” was meant to steel us from and protects us against. -d