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Ray Alder – What The Water Wants (Album Review)

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It’s worth repeating that one needn’t unearth one’s own internal anguish in order to effectively express the complexity of human existence. Though many (validly) argue that it’s imperative for, say, a singer to recount their own lived experience in order to deliver a convincing performance, one needn’t look any further than prog-metal legend Ray Alder‘s contributions to find compelling evidence to the contrary. During his over thirty years with Fates Warning and his glorious five-album run with Redemption, Alder has laid waste to the notion that a frontman absolutely must sing his own words and his own story in order to move his audience to tears. That wasn’t his own life he was singing about on such monumental records as “Parallels” and “The Fullness of Time.” But his performances sure as hell moved you, didn’t they?

Though he has (reluctantly at first) made massive contributions to the Fates Warning canon, it’s been over seventeen goddamn years since Alder has graced us with a record that was fully his own. And his finally taking up that mantle has resulted in exactly the cathartic outpour you didn’t realize you needed. Alder‘s first proper solo album, “What the Water Wants,” is a purgative deluge of a record whose at once heavy and dreamy identity draws neatly from Alder‘s past work while forging its own identity.

“What the Water Wants” opens with the eerie “Lost,” an uncomfortably guileless tract that showcases the fascinating evolution of Alder’s distinctive voice. Ray once again establishes himself as a singer’s singer, one who explored and conquered previously uncharted baritone territories some twenty years ago, and now approaches them with a distinctly San Antonian howl. This perfectly crafted song, combined with Alder‘s unique style, provides enough of a punch and journey in its scant 3:45 running time that you don’t even realize how brief the cut actually is. It ain’t the length of the ride, y’all. It’s the quality of the excursion.

And thus the tone is set. “What the Water Wants” is awash with astral dreaminess and tensely restrained aggression befitting of its many subtle nods to his day gig: astute listeners will note that Ray tips his hat to “Disconnected” and “Darkness in a Different Light” throughout the album. And where he doesn’t lyrically acknowledge the band that put him on the map, we might be treated to an arrangement or melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fates record. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that guitarist/bassist Mike Abdow isn’t channeling Joey Vera on the mesmerizing “Crown of Thorns,” for example. This cut also highlights the importance of ambiance on the record. Its interlude particularly drives this point, relegating the rhythm section to the background while a saturated, distorted riff laments its own loneliness. Depeche Mode’s “Violator” rears its impact on metal yet again!

“What The Water Wanted” Album Artwork

This is not to say that “What the Water Wants” doesn’t rock out; skip to  “Shine,” “Wait,” and “A Beautiful Lie” if heaviness is what you’re after. The key is that the heaviness is doled out in measured doses. “What the Water Wants” invites us to experience Alder‘s more intimate side. “The Road,” for instance, recounts his journey from a childhood in West Texas to his current lot in a manner that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Queensrÿche’s criminally overlooked “Promised Land,” while the moody “Some Days” sounds like a continuation of “Perfect Star,”  from Engine’s final offering, 2002’s “Superholic.”

“What the Water Wants” concludes with the appropriately aqueous cuts “What Water Wanted” (dig that guitar hook; it sounds like freaking rainfall) and “The Killing Floor,” where Alder once again gives a shout-out to Fates as if to stress that while he’s put his all into this wonderful record, it’s by no means in disservice to his primary gig. Rather, “What the Water Wants” allows Alder to flex his creative muscles after a lengthy run portraying a dear friend’s most inner thoughts amid doing just that for another dear friend for over three decades. “What the Water Wants” and its considerable greatness cannot possibly detract from Fates. It can only prime Alder, and us, for greatness of a different sort while seducing its audience with its own entrancing eminence.

Released by: Inside Out Music
Released date: October 18th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Ray Alder / Vocals
  • Mike Abdow / Guitars, bass
  • Tony Hernando / Guitars, bass
  • Craig Anderson / Drums

“What The Water Wants” Track-listing:

1. Lost
2. Crown Of Thorns
3. Some Days
4. Shine
5. Under Dark Skies
6. A Beautiful Lie
7. The Road
8. Wait
9. What The Water Wanted
10. The Killing Floor

9.1 Excellent

With the help of Fates Warning bandmate Mike Abdow, Lords of Black honcho Tony Hernando, and Ignite drummer Craig Anderson, Alder has created the most personal record of his storied career that effectively merges the directness of Engine, the precision of Fates Warning, and the terrifying intimacy of Redemption while never stealing or even borrowing from them

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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