Trapped within a world, a world apart
Desolate am I, a tempest raging silently
Lost, a barren adrift at sea."
One Word Review: Mystical
25 years down the road, I still remember the exact feeling I got, when I listened to The Spectre Within for the first time. It was a feeling of being sucked into another world, of being on a mesmerizing musical adventure, where you could not anticipate what was around the next corner, a feeling of being challenged on several levels and above all, it was something I had never experienced before, completely original, mysterious and wonderful. Listening to the album today is not just a feeling of nostalgia, it is a feeling of time standing still, capturing one perfect moment to be forever cherished. It is hard to explain exactly what I feel, but what Fates Warning created here was magic, pure and simple.
I first got The Spectre Within back in 1992 along with Night on Bröcken, in a double CD package. The Spectre Within caught my attention instantly. This was due to three reasons: John Arch (Vocals), monster guitar riffs and that very special atmosphere. John Arch was the singer on the first three Fates Warning albums, Night on Bröcken, The Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian. Through these three albums they developed their style dramatically and the songs got more and more complex and intricate. This album is sort of in between the style of power metal and progressive metal. It takes the best from both styles and and combines it into some brilliant music, way ahead of its time.
The sound of howling winds and the ticking of a clock puts you in a kind of relaxed state of mind, before a heavy guitar riff takes over. Traveller in time is a mid tempo epic with many changes and interesting parts. Right from the start, it's obvious that the guitar riffs play a big role on the album. Good thing then, that they are all of high quality, and have an excellent crunching sound to them.
Another thing you will notice at once, is the voice of John Arch, who brings another layer to the atmosphere. His way of singing is very distinctive. He gives the songs so many vocal melodies, and the way he sings along with the other instruments is amazing, as if he, in himself is an instrument being played by some melodic genius. John Arch's voice was one of the things that made Fates Warning a really special band to me back then, and I have yet to hear anything that sounds quite like him. He is truly unique.
Orphan Gypsy starts out with a brilliant instrumental part that sets a perfect mood. What a great solo, nice bridge, and then the verse kicks in. A haunting and stressful riff plays through the verse and gives the song a great drive.
These two opening songs set the stage for the rest of the album and deliver a compact and very focused, brooding atmosphere.
The Apparition is my favourite song of the album and is, in itself, a masterpiece. In fact, it is one of my favourite songs ever. The song is huge and the way it builds to it's fantastic climax is something to behold. With very simple means, the band is able to create some truly dramatic, magical and beautiful music. I'm blown away every time I listen to this song. Even today the power it brings is incredible. Steel Prophet made a good cover version on their album Dark Hallucinations, but nothing will ever come close to the original version. Hearing this song live at Keep It True in 2016 was very special indeed.
The chanting of a monk choir is broken by a slow heavy riff and Kyrie Eleison is off. The song soon picks up speed and turns into another heavy monster. It was really cool to hear part of this song in the movie River's Edge from 1986. Check that movie out if you are able to find it, it is very special, and I have a feeling that Without a Trace might have been inspired by the same events, that the movie is based on. It is the fastest song on the album, also harboring a special atmosphere. The extremely cool riff that runs throughout the song gives it a great drive. Just listening to the manic guitar playing of this song makes it interesting.
The closer of the original album, Epitaph is a 12 minute epic. Starting out slowly it builds to quite a song, even including a cool slow and epic part, reminiscent of Damnation from Night on Bröcken. I do miss some kind of melodic link to hold the song together, and it took time and many listens before the song fully bloomed. Be sure to check out the brilliant guitar solo.
One of the things that makes The Spectre Within so special is that it takes its time to develop and nothing feels rushed. Each song takes the time it needs to develop into a monster. The guitar creates a cool background for the music and the huge riffs are always there. I love being able to sit back and listen to the ever changing guitar parts. They provide the perfect background on all the songs.
The lyrics deal with death, criminals, the music business and other things. They are written in such a way that it takes several readthroughs to grasp what they are really about and still, they have several meanings.
The production is not perfect, but doesn't destroy anything either, actually I find the production part of the charm. The production gives the album an instantly recogniseable sound, which was developed even further on Awaken the Guardian. But generally I feel that the bass is too much hidden away beneath the rythm guitar. The sound on this re-release is a little better than the original, but no really extraordinary improvement.
The Spectre within was re-released in 2002 and this edition includes four bonus tracks.
First bonus track is a live version of Radio underground. This is an early version of Pirates of Underground with some different lyrics and arrangements recorded live. Unfortunately the sound quality is very bad and close to a C grade bootleg copy. Still, it's an interesting inclusion.
The second bonus tracks is a recording of The Apparition during a rehearsal session. This is very interesting being my favourite song of the album and all. The sound is very raw and John Arch's singing is even higher than on the record. There are plenty of small mistakes, but that only adds to the interest. It's a really cool inclusion and I still feel the magic of the song intact, mainly due to John Arch's voice, which is amazing as he's trying to get the feel for the song.
Kyrie Eleison and Epitaph are included in Demo versions as well. They both have some interesting changes from the album versions and a really annoying echo effect on the vocals, which pops up on ocassion. Stay for the end of Epitaph though, for a special bulletin.
The Spectre Within is a classic and very important piece of music in the history of progressive metal. I would call Awaken the Guardian, No Exit, Perfect Symmetry and Parallells classics as well, but that's another story. If you already own the original, this re-release is still worth the money due to the better sound and the interesting bonus songs.
I was sold instantly and to the day, this album remains a vivid experience in every way. Brilliant, just brilliant.
If you don't own it, you know what to do.
Written By Steen
Online: Saturday, June 3, 2017
Traveler In Time