Live releases are an endangered species in the ever-changing music industry, but much to the joy of their fans, FATES WARNING have put together a two disc live package recorded on the band’s latest European tour that showcases material from the last 30 years of the prog metal pioneers’ impressive career.
FATES WARNING released a DVD called “Awaken the Guardian Live” last year, featuring a full performance of the album of the same name, but as I’m not a fan of the John Arch era, it wasn’t the ideal release for me. Besides, the previous live releases, “Still Life” (1998) and “Live in Athens” (2005), had been out of print for a while already, and the live footage on the reissues of the early studio albums was quite low-quality… so getting hold of a properly recorded FATES WARNING live release with Ray Alder on vocals started to feel like hunting for a unicorn. Luckily this was finally remedied when the band announced that each show on this year’s European tour would be recorded and the best bits would be mixed by studio guru Jens Bogren [AMORPHIS, OPETH, PARADISE LOST] for a live CD release. Of course a DVD would’ve been nice, but audio is better than nothing, and 23 tracks on two CDs is a satisfactory amount of music.
The song selection on “Live Over Europe” includes material from each album recorded with Alder on vocals, from 1988’s “No Exit” to 2016’s excellent “Theories of Flight.“ Since the tour was in support of the latter record, it – as well as the classic “Parallels” (1991) – is represented with most tracks, namely four. The sole selection from the conceptual “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” (1997) is the gorgeous MARILLION-esque ballad “A Pleasant Shade of Gray Pt. IX,” most likely because the whole record was already played in full for the “Still Life.” Setlist staples such as “Point of View,” “Monument,” and “One” are accompanied by rare selections like “Pale Fire,” “Falling,” and “Acquiescence.”
Whatever Ray Alder has done to take care of his voice in the past few years has clearly helped, since his vocals sound great, just like in the studio. He used to be a bit off in the mid-00s, but he’s taken a massive leap since then. The high notes on “The Light and Shade of Things” are audibly challenging for him, but instead of coming across as embarrassing, these slight struggles only help to bring out the raw emotion in the song even more, and it sounds like he’s giving his everything to the audience. Hearing his modified vocal melodies on oldies like “Silent Cries” and “Acquiescence” is also refreshing, because I always found his high register on those tracks a little too screechy.
It’s great that the band isn’t dead set on performing the songs identically to the album versions and still hasn’t resorted to backing tracks, though leaving out the quiet endings of “Nothing Left to Say” and a few other tracks feels a bit wrong. I was curious about how my favorite song, “Still Remains,” would turn out without keyboards, but Jim Matheos and Mike Abdow do a fantastic job filling in for the keyboard parts on guitar – only the chorus sounds a little too busy without the atmospheric synth pads. Abdow is clearly the right man to fill Frank Aresti‘s shoes, playing his classic solos on the likes of “Life in Still Water” and “Point of View” effortlessly and accompanying Matheos perfectly. The classical intro to “And Yet It Moves” is played without a hitch and makes me wonder if these guys have a telepathetic connection.
Although the tracks have been taken from multiple shows, they’ve been edited to flow quite naturally. Jens Bogren‘s mix is fantastic, and it makes the studio version of “Firefly” from “Darkness in a Different Light” (2013) sound like a modest demo in comparison. For this reason it’s a pity that “One Thousand Fires” from the same album, which was in rotation during the tour, didn’t make the cut for this release, as it surely would’ve sounded amazing. It could’ve replaced “Wish,” which doesn’t come across as a great live song, as the band doesn’t manage to capture its nuances on stage. The only thing that slightly puzzles me is how little crowd noise there is, given that some of the tracks were recorded in countries like Italy and Greece, where audiences are known to be loud. Nevertheless, the big singalong during “The Eleventh Hour” is glorious and makes you wish you’d been there in person.
“Live Over Europe” is the best kind of live album you can imagine: excellently performed and not studio-doctored, great-sounding but not sterile, and with a career-spanning selection of tunes. Only certain song omissions and the lack of a video companion leave you wanting more, but all things considered, this live package is about the best you can get. Now if only someone could get FATES to perform in Finland so I could witness the band’s live energy in the flesh myself… Promoters, take note!
Written by Wille Karttunen
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
Jim Matheos − guitars
Ray Alder − vocals
Joey Vera − bass
Bobby Jarzombek − drums
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”