NORTH SEA ECHOES – Really Good Terrible Things (Album Review)

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The bad news is that Fates Warning is indefinitely dormant, if not dead entirely. The good news is that this has allowed the group’s key members to create some pretty great music that falls far outside even Fates’ broad scope: fans might not necessarily revolt were the prog-metal titans to drop an AOR record or start including “Amarillo by Morning” in their sets, but the rift this would cause would absolutely dwarf the one, say, “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” created.

A collaboration between Fates mega-boss Jim Matheos and longtime singer Ray Alder, North Sea Echoes is an entity that has only that in common with the partnership that begat it. Dreamy, melancholic, and only occasionally intense, the pair’s debut often feels like all the metal got sucked out of the late Zonder era, which found Fates toying with ambiance and electronics to paint sonic landscapes. A more informed listener might instead point to Tuesday the Sky, Jim‘s mostly instrumental ambient brainchild. Regardless of the reference point, “Really Good Terrible Things” is a force of nature in its own right, and is worthy of repeated listens from metalheads and non-metalheads alike.

Open Book” sets the tone with a hypnotic natural harmonic sequence and a chord sequence played in a familiar clean tone that can be traced back to the “Parallels” era. Ray‘s all too natural melody similarly warns us that while we may be in for a ride, it’ll be of the more pensive and effusive variety, one that reflects life’s cyclical nature. Propelled by unashamedly electronic drums and other programming, the sounds and songwriting evoke clear and deliberate forward movement, but the destination onward is delightfully unclear. A future undefined, as it were.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Really Good Terrible Things” is that Ray and Jim have draped much of it with a synthpop veneer that evokes the mellower moments of Cause & Effect’s damn near forgotten brilliant second album “Trip.”Flowers in Decay”  and “The Mission” particularly carry a notable synthpop vibe with their reliance on electronics, distorted but subdued guitars, and bass lines that would certainly have had booties shaking on 80s goth dance floors. Cuts like “Unmoved” and “Touch the Sky,” however, recall the acoustic covers Fates Warning included on the bonus CD to “Theories of Flight,” which saw the pair interpreting songs by Joaquin Rodrigo and Toad the Wet Sprocket as if at an open mic at a cozy coffee house.

“Really Good Terrible Things” Album Artwork

This isn’t to say that “Really Good Terrible Things” never heavies up. But don’t go in expecting a sequel to “Theories of Flight,” because North Sea Echoes channels its intensity electronically – the nearly trip-hop fervor on songs like “Empty” and “Where I’m From” may remind fans of The Gathering of that Dutch ensemble’s excellent 2003 album “Souvenirs,” for instance.

Ray, for his part, pulls a few new and seldom-used tricks out of his bag on “Unmoved” and “Move Around the Sun,” where he toys with whispered choirs and even a gentle falsetto, examples of which I’m hard-pressed to recall anywhere in his expansive discography. The closing cut, “No Maps,” has Ray sweetly and breathily crooning about that same uncertain future; whether he refers to his career path or to life itself is as nebulous as North Sea Echoes and its sonic identity. And I mean that in a good way.

Like many Fates diehards, I’ve been salivating at the thought of what Jim and Ray have been cooking up ever since it was announced they’d been creating new music together. The moodiness and introspection that has defined Ray‘s lyrical output ever since Jim forced him at pickpoint to start writing lyrics nearly a quarter century ago continues to pair perfectly with Jim‘s despondent, desolate compositions. The interpretations are distinct, but both the message and the salience with which that message is delivered on this deeply personal record are an unambiguous consecution of a decades-old creative partnership that clearly has much life left in it.

Released By: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: February 23rd, 2023
Genre: Prog Rock / Post Rock

Band Members:

  • Ray Alder / Vocals
  • Jim Matheos / Guitars
  • Gunnar Olsen / Drums

North Sea Echoes track listing:

  1. Open Book
  2. Flowers in Decay
  3. Unmoved
  4. Throwing Stones
  5. Empty
  6. The Mission
  7. Where I’m From
  8. We Move Around the Sun
  9. Touch the Sky
  10. No Maps

Pre-order the album HERE

    9.0 Excellent

    Much of “Really Good Terrible Things” would sound right at home on a latter-day Fates Warning record, albeit with drastically different arrangements. But a continuation of Fates this absolutely ain't: North Sea Echoes is a beast unto itself and is to be regarded accordingly, and its cohesiveness and despair testify that the bond Jim and Ray have as creators is as intact as it's ever been

    • Songwriting 9
    • Musicianship 9
    • Originality 9
    • Production 9
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