Fates Warning is a legend in the progressive metal community. One of the few prog metal bands that predate Dream Theater, their influence is undeniable. Also difficult to deny is the remarkable quality that the band continues to deliver to this day. The band is back with a live album (no DVD) that is releasing on June 29th, and I’m quite taken with it. “Live Over Europe” is an absolute must for fans of the Ray Alder era of the band.
As I stated in my Haken review, live albums are typically difficult for me to review, and that is even more difficult for an audio-only release. I honestly don’t tend to expect live takes to sound just like studio albums, but I’m also looking for something extra that will make it worth my time to purchase songs I already own. Live albums just need that extra something. “Live Over Europe” has that in some ways, but it doesn’t fully deliver in others.
Fates Warning currently consists of Bobby Jarzombek on drums, Joey Vera on bass, Ray Alder on vocals, Jim Matheos on guitars, and Mike Abdow on guitars. If you recall, Fates Warning released a special live album featuring the John Arch line-up last year, but this album is all about Ray Alder and the extensive material available under his watch. Personally, I’m a big Alder fan, and so this live album is more directed at someone like me.
Yes, I wish this would have been a full DVD. As the marketing video shows, there were definitely cameras there, and I honestly love the “The Light and Shade of Things” video and how it was shot. In fact, it might have been shot better than the new Haken DVD, even. But, alas, we only get the audio, though it does sound great. In fact, again in comparison with the Haken DVD, the sound has more oomph and balance to it, and it doesn’t seem like it’s been tweaked all that much, so you are getting a raw live take of these songs, down to the very nitty gritty. I can appreciate that.
On the other hand, the age of the band is starting to show, specifically with Ray. As far as the instrumental side of things goes, everything sounds amazing. Jim and Mike’s guitars specifically sound amazing and soulful, and Joey’s bass and Bobby’s drums are full and powerful. Bobby happens to be one of my favorite drummers with his intricate approach to the bass pedal.
On the vocal side of things, Ray impresses, with some caveats. I’ve always loved his gravy tone and unique overall sound, and that is as present as ever. The lower, more somber parts sound fantastic, such as on “Still Remains”. However, Ray is getting older and he can’t really hit the highs anymore, even on “The Light and Shade of Things”, which is off their most recent album. You can hear him struggling at times, and other times he changes the tune somewhat to accommodate his new range. Note that this isn’t a complaint or critique of him: I’m just offering my observations. Ray still sounds great overall, and he offers an energy that makes up for some of the epic moments that are missing here.
What all this means is that these versions are not going to be the definitive versions that you want to hear all the time. Ray doesn’t sound like he once did, and the songs themselves don’t offer much in the way of extra portions that aren’t on the studio versions, so don’t expect interesting instrumentals that you haven’t heard. The band doesn’t deviate from the original compositions much at all. Additionally, Ray doesn’t interact with the crowd much outside of announcing song titles (unless his audience interaction was cut out), so you won’t hear interesting stories or interplay between band members. Overall, the live album just feels really straightforward, though not bad, per se.
On the other side of this, though, is that fact that this live album offers an amazing overview of the band’s Alder era, and you get two CDs and 23 tracks. Because of this, I almost feel like this live album would be a great starting point for new fans that are looking to sample songs from various albums. This would be a fantastic way to hear some of the band’s finest moments, and then you could pursue the actual albums and hear them in all their glory there.
Obviously, major fans are going to buy this live album, and I encourage them to do so as a way of supporting the band so that they can make their next album. “Live Over Europe” is a worthy collection to own, for sure. However, keep your expectations in check over the performances, and give Ray a little grace because he has sure earned it. If you can remember that, this live album will soar for you.
Find Fates Warning online:
1. From the Rooftops
2. Life in Still Water
4. Pale Fire
5. Seven Stars
7. Pieces of Me
9. The Light and Shade of Things
11. Another Perfect Day
12. Silent Cries
13. And Yet it Moves
1. Still Remains
2. Nothing Left to Say
4. The Eleventh Hour
5. Point of View
7. A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Pt. IX
8. Through Different Eyes
10. Eye to Eye