There is a difference between being comfortable with oneself and being complacent. While 2013’s Darkness in a Different Light was a pretty good comeback for Fates Warning, it seemed like the legendary prog veterans spent more time trying to downplay their signature style in favor of sounding more like Tool or Soundgarden. Theories of Flight is probably on the same level in quality as its predecessor, but it stands out for featuring a Fates Warning that sounds more like itself than it has in a good while.
When comparing Theories of Flight to past Fates Warning efforts, A Pale Shade of Gray instantly comes to mind. Granted, this album is nowhere near as depressing as that somewhat controversial masterpiece, it has a similar conceptual feel to it. The lyrics seem to be based around themes of regret and nostalgia and the songs offer their own lengths and dynamics that seem to contribute to an overall narrative. In addition, there are a few ambient flourishes and sparse sample work that make it hard to believe that Kevin Moore didn’t have a hand in the album’s composition.
Having said that, the album does have catchy tracks executed in the band’s signature fashion. “SOS” and “Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen” wouldn’t be out of place on the previous album due to a heavy crunch that recalls late-era Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater, but “Seven Stars” would’ve been an excellent addition to Perfect Symmetry or Parallels thanks to its powerful chorus. In addition, the driving chug on “White Flag” makes it the album’s most straightforward number and even the ten minute tracks like “The Light and Shade of Things” have plenty of memorable vocal lines.
Overall, Theories of Flight is a strong addition to the Fates Warning catalog. It isn’t quite as monumental as A Pale Shade of Gray or Perfect Symmetry, but the songs on here are cut from the same cloth and I can’t remember another time Ray Alder sounded this striking. Darkness in a Different Light showed the group faring better than many of their peers in the prog scene, but this album proves that they might be the strongest contender.
“The Light and Shade of Things”