Ray Alder – II (Inside Out Music)

Wednesday, 7th June 2023
Rating: 8.5 / 10

While we know Fates Warning as a recording entity has faded into a distant memory, all is not lost in the musicians who took that progressive metal act into legendary status to not develop new recordings in different styles or incarnations. Ray Alder at various times in his career has been a part of the more commercial/alternative leaning Engine, the hard rock act A-Z with ex-Fates drummer Mark Zonder, plus a couple of records in the heavier progressive/power metal band Redemption. Now returning for his second solo album II after hitting the market in 2019 with What the Water Wants, the songwriting/musical team of guitarists Michael Abdow and Tony Hernando (Lords of Black) also join the singer again, with Crescent Shield drummer Craig Anderson rounding out the lineup.

The natural emotive abilities within Ray’s diverse range are undeniable – what’s most exciting at this point in his career is the way he stretches out his melodic resonance in lower, tender moments. There’s just something special about taking reflective chances in restrained verses to hit that momentous chorus payoff – which you’ll get with equally colorful vigor musically right away on the opener “This Hollow Shell”, the seesaw dynamics between tranquil guitar lines and AOR/arpeggio-fueled lead breaks that give chase to darker, distortion-oriented riffs breathtaking. The axe duo activities between Abdow and Hernando create a multitude of layers to take in and process – crunchier in almost a modern, mid-tempo slant for “Hands of Time”, while somber / mysterious in the use of effects during “Those Words I Bled”. Choosing to have longer tracks plus deeper lyrics allows the listener to absorb the material in a diverse playground familiar to Ray and this band – easily able to shift from calmer verses into a progressive, semi-djent/modern metal groove shuffle for “Waiting For Some Sun” where Craig can garner some highlight time signature manipulation between the cyber keyboard / normal guitar proceedings. The record ends with “Changes”, probably the closest track to what Fates Warning has done over the last few albums. An almost eight-minute outing where Ray hits some soothing vocal heights, the guitar work exquisite while tasteful, taking the listener on that ideal journey that you want to feel for the final song.

When you make solo records, it’s all about capturing your experiences where you are at in the here and now. II shines bright as Ray Alder treasures his vocal abilities positioned in a metal/hard rock context with modern, bluesy, and progressive nuances – and should be appreciated by most FW followers.

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