It is always a precarious situation when a musical legend decides to release a solo album, especially after being in the business for so long. The results can either be exciting, or they can be awkward. Ray Alder of Fates Warning and ex-Redemption is set to release “What the Water Wants” on October 18th through Inside Out Music. For me, this album is firmly in the “exciting” side of things.
Ray, as mentioned above, is the frontman for Fates Warning, and the ex-frontman for Redemption. His credentials really need no introduction, and he has always been a mysterious figure for me. As expected, this mysterious figure has created an album full of mystery and depth, too. For this purpose, he has recruited Mike Abdow and Tony Hernando on guitars and bass, and also Craig Anderson on drums.
The music here is progressive metal, often dabbling more in the rock arena, as well. I don’t think Ray had it in his mind to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, but instead to write amazing songs with various moods. That is exactly what he’s done here. He had some help from the rest of the line up in writing the songs, and so you will notice that difference between tracks. So, while much of the music here is pretty straightforward as far as prog metal goes, with some twists and turns here and there, the album’s greatest strength is Ray’s unfaltering excellence in composition, never letting a song go on too long and never adding filler. His production of the album is flawless, and it is great to see his wife’s (Cecilia Garrido Stratta) artwork as the cover, too.
Overall, the album comes across as emotional and energetic. You will hear plenty of great guitar solos and riff-heavy instrumentals, but you will also hear introspective moments and various colors and moods. The album centers on water as a theme, obviously, and I think it has different meanings depending on the song. Overall, I think the “water” is somehow life, and so we fight storms and floods, and sometimes we just have to swim it without any reservations, and I think this album zeros in on that idea, especially with Ray’s life experience as fuel for that introspection.
I’ve been pondering Ray’s move here in releasing his first solo album so far into his career. It makes me wonder if he is trying to stake a claim on his own musical expertise in some way. Ray has always been that somber, focused presence, and his voice is a foundation upon which pretty much any music could be built. For my ears, he has always sounded like the Seal of progressive metal. But in Fates Warning and Redemption, there have always been, shall we say, more eccentric members that take the spotlight. On “What the Water Wants”, Ray is the highlight. The album is about his own mind and his own maturation. Oh, and Ray’s voice sounds better than ever.
Every song on the album feels complete and carefully selected. “Lost” opens the album with catchy drive, and “The Killing Floor” closes the album with maturity and depth, choosing the tender introspective route over the typical epic metal ending. Those songs are perfectly placed, and really represent the album well. Ray doesn’t forget his past, though, either. “Some Days” feels like a nod to Fates Warning’s “Disconnected” album. The song pines about emotions that “still remain”, which may sound familiar to Fates Warning fans. For me, the song is very personal and I love the chorus. The different moods and writers on the album are also noticeable, such as on “A Beautiful Lie”, with more of a rock beat (maybe even punk rock), feeling almost upbeat.
I do have some favorites, though. “Shine” has a winding, complex chorus, and isn’t afraid to resort to a giant wall of riffs to make its point. I love the instrumental near the end. “The Road” is such an evocative song. Ray really lets his heart out on this one, pining about his life and the road he has travelled. It is almost a ballad in format, though it gets moving near the end. “What the Water Wanted” is the single, and I adore it. Notice the small difference between the song title and the album title. Anyways, this song is pure energy and mystery, and I cannot get enough of it.
Ray’s first solo venture is a success, and sounds amazing. He has long been a favorite voice of mine in progressive music, but I’ve often noticed that he isn’t that outspoken or in-our-faces about his opinions or personality. This album isn’t outspoken, either, but it subtly and intelligently offers insight into Ray’s mind, as well as into life in general. If you are a fan of any of Ray’s past discography, you will want to get a copy of this.