Summer of 1987.
This was the summer where I discovered metal. Speed metal, that is. I’d done the classics by the time I’d hit the 7th grade. Made my way through the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Hendrix. AC/DC were in my collection, as well as a good chunk of hair metal. Most of 7th grade was consumed by Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Dokken and Great White. But when summer rolled around, my brother introduced me to speed metal. Speed, thrash, whatever you want to call it. Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Overkill, Metal Church,…my eyes and ears had been opened to the double kick drum, lightning fast guitar riffs, the pained howl vocals, and lyrics that ranged from drug addiction, politics, and devil worship; to teen angst, witchcraft, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It was the perfect place to land before heading back into Warsaw Middle School to start my 8th grade year.
Like with anything, you’ve got your good and bad metal bands. Most of what I came across I liked. I wasn’t all that picky. One afternoon my mom took me to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket so bought Fates Warning’s No Exit. To be honest, I’m not sure why I bought this album. I may have read a review in Metal Edge or Circus. Or quite possibly my older brother may have mentioned them. In order to one up said older brother I may have bought the album before he had a chance. So I left Butterfly Records with No Exit on cassette and headed off to a guitar lesson. On the ride home I popped the cassette tape into the cassette player of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and was impressed. It had twin guitar attack, impressive drumming, and banshee-like vocals with doom-laden lyrics. What more could a 14 year old kid as for?
Fates Warning were an east coast metal band that formed in 1983 out of Connecticut. No Exit was the fourth album and their first with a line up change that included new singer Ray Alder. After experimenting with progressive rock tendencies the band really jumped head first into the progressive/art rock vibe on No Exit. There were acoustic interludes, lyrics about anarchy, death, silent cries, and even a whole side, 21 minute suite called “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. When their next album dropped the next year in 1989 called Perfect Symmetry they had gone full progressive and were more in line with bands like Queensryche with that Q Prime management vibe; including heady music videos and more expensive hair products. But No Exit still possessed a sense of danger to it. There was still a darkness in the dissonant guitar lines and Alder’s operatic howls. They never hit the drug-fueled doldrums of say Megadeth, or the speed metal delights of Metallica or Slayer, or even the hardcore charms of Anthrax, but it was a great album for an 8th grader to shake his fist to quietly in his bedroom.
On a recent trip to Neat Neat Neat Records I found a super clean copy of No Exit for $10 and instantly nostalgia got the better of me. After about ten minutes of mulling around the store I made my way back to the “F” section of the metal albums and grabbed Fates Warning. I also snagged a copy of Fogg’s High Testament(we’ll talk about that one later.) Was it all warm fuzzies and harkening back to the heyday of my teen speed metal years? No, not really.
Sometimes nostalgia can give you a nice surprise. Recent purchases of albums like Cinderella’s Night Songs, Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, and even older grabs like Van Halen’s Fair Warning and Diver Down showed that I wasn’t all that bad at finding good music to listen to in my pre-teen and teen years. Sadly though, sometimes records don’t age all that well. No Exit, while still probably exactly as it was in 1988, just isn’t that memorable of a record. It’s a sort of paint-by-numbers affair as far as metal albums go.
So basically you’ve got your chugging metal riffs, the galloping metal riffs, and the occasional spritz of thrash thrown in with Fates Warning. Album opener “No Exit” is 41 seconds of sorrowful, dissonant guitars as singer Ray Alder basks in some serious doomy vocals. When I was a teenager it probably sounded a lot better. Now it just sounds out of tune(God, I’m old.) “Anarchy Divine” goes in hard with some decent thrash moments and some nice tempo changes. Alder, to me, sounds like a poor man’s Joey Belladonna. He hits those high notes well enough, but there’s no heft there. Even Geoff Tate had some color behind his wailing. “Silent Cries” hints at a more progressive sound the band would dig into with their next album, Perfect Symmetry. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no “oomph”. “In A Word” is the obligatory acoustic number all metal bands felt they needed to include back in the 80s. I guess it’s supposed to show off the soulful side of the band. Meh. I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest. “Shades Of Heavenly Death” has some nice early Anthrax vibes, but man those vocals just kind of bring everything down. I just can’t get into that wailing. “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” is the nearly 22-minute opus and works the best here. Alder keeps his vocals controlled here, and the band does a nice job of tempo changes and mixing up the art rock vibe with straight up speed metal. This takes up all of side B and I could see what I saw in these guys in the first place.
By 1989 the rough edges that were present on No Exit were mostly shaved off. In their place was arty, Rush-inspired progressive rock. It was a little more Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and less Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. Fates Warning is still a quality progressive rock band, but No Exit won’t be spun again any time soon. Sometimes the past just needs to stay in the past I suppose. Let those sleeping dogs lie. Or those old rock records continue to collect dust in my memory.