In the summer of 2019, having returned to their respective homes following a tour with fellow US progressive metallers Queensrÿche, Fates Warning began mapping out plans for a 13th studio album. Over the coming months, guitarist Jim Matheos and vocalist Ray Alder collaborated on its material, although gradually the band began to sense a gigantic problem: Covid-19 was heading their way.
Alder had moved to Spain some years previously. On the day that Prog speaks to him he bemoans the fact that his adopted homeland is going into quarantine for
a second time. Earlier this year, with mixer Joe Barresi (Tool/Coheed And Cambria) booked for a very specific window of time and the band having been set a cast iron completion date, the pandemic’s original wave meant Alder was forced to take an extreme course of action.
“My vocals had to be finished by mid-May but here in Spain you weren’t allowed to leave your house or drive with more than two people in a car,” he explains. “Music studios couldn’t open, but I looked around and found the owner of one who had been tested and wasn’t sick, neither was I; I hadn’t left home in three months. One thing that was allowed was moving house.”
Alder knew he wasn’t sticking to the letter of the law but felt he had no alternative.
“My wife came up with the brilliant idea of me moving into the studio – for two weeks!” he says with a hearty laugh, still scarcely able to believe his actions. “I loaded a truck with a bed and other household items, but as we drove to the studio I was shitting my pants. If the cops had pulled us over I’d have been busted.”
For the following fortnight Alder lived in the vocal booth and ate microwave meals at night, recording a track per day and sending the results to Barresi in the US. And thus Long Day Good Night was born.
For readers jumping in on the Fates Warning story, a mini history lesson might be of help. Alder joined the Connecticut-based band in 1987 after three albums, replacing co-founder John Arch who was forced out for financial reasons: refusing to give up his day job.
“John wasn’t able to tour, so they had to find somebody that would,” Alder laughs. “That was me, and more than 30 years later I’m still here.”
From the following year’s No Exit onwards, Fates Warning became more progressively influenced, although as anyone ancient enough to recall the formative days of the prog metal scene will testify, there existed a basic refusal to accept the fusion of the two seemingly contrasting styles.
“We went on tour, thrashed about like idiots and had the time of our lives, but
few people really got it,” Alder agrees. “I remember being afraid that people wouldn’t dig the next album [Perfect Symmetry, 1989] because it was a complete turnaround. But, like I said, we’re still here and our fanbase continues to grow.”
As readers might have guessed, Alder had made his entrance to the progressive world via the heavy metal route. “I began with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, also Journey was another big one,” he reminisces, “but at 12 years old the Rush album 2112 was my gateway to Jethro Tull, Yes and Camel and it remains in my Top 10 of all time. Hearing [Fates Warning’s] Awaken The Guardian  on the radio was another watershed moment. I was completely floored and realised that music didn’t have to be in 4/4 time to make sense.”
Alder recently turned 53, but unlike so many contemporaries his voice still sounds great. In an interview for the band’s previous album, Theories Of Flight, Matheos commented that the singer had experienced “a rough patch during the early 2000s.” Is he doing anything differently now?
“The top end of my range did start to go away, but I saw a doctor in Los Angeles who told me to stop drinking and smoking, and even to sleep in a certain way – that was never going to fly,” he says with a laugh. “The problem was that I destroyed my voice by never rehearsing, going from zero to 100mph. So for the past few years I’ve sung for a few hours almost every day and now it’s back in shape again.”
Long Day Good Night is a mellow, tuneful and largely sedate record that stands apart from the rest of the Fates Warning catalogue. Some electronic supplementation is added to tracks such as Now Comes The Rain, but it isn’t overly intrusive.
“I can’t put myself in Jim’s mind but this time I think he wanted to run the gamut
[of styles],” Alder suggests. “When he started sending me music he would say, ‘I have this song, I don’t know whether it’s going to work [for us]’. But each time we decided to go with it. It has everything from heavy to epic to mellow and electronic. I don’t think we intended there to be 13 songs on the record, but we kept on adding more
Prog points out that 72 minutes and 22 seconds was the length of a double album in the days of vinyl.
“Yeah, and later we realised that those numbers add up to 13 – that’s hilarious.” [The band’s 13th album also has 13 songs].
The tempos of those songs remain fairly steady throughout, though their sense of scale is impressive. Does Alder think of Long Day Good Night as a ‘progressive’ album?
“Well, that wasn’t the goal,” he responds after several moments of contemplation. “Making a progressive rock album wasn’t what we set out to do, though The Longest Shadow Of The Day is meant to be its progressive party piece.”
Clocking in at more than 11 minutes, closer The Longest Shadow Of The Day is a gargantuan song, with words presumably inspired by the decay of the environment and/or the world’s current spirit of political endangerment. Regrettably, Alder cannot add insight.
“You’d have to ask Jim; those were his lyrics,” he chuckles. “I’ve stopped asking him what each song is about, and most of the time he wouldn’t explain anyway. Neither of us really likes to tell anybody what our songs mean.
“But we had one of those epic songs on each of the past three albums,” he continues, “and we didn’t think that we would play them live, though on the last tour we actually did.”
Another defining moment, the rustic Under The Sun, features a full string section for the first time. Meanwhile, the involvement of Gavin Harrison, The Pineapple Thief/ex-Porcupine Tree man who plays drums on When Snow Falls and Under The Sun, was another symptom of the album’s quarantine-affected birth.
“Bobby [Jarzombek, drummer] was set to be away on a three-month tour with Sebastian Bach which got cancelled,” Alder explains. “But even then we needed help in the mad scramble to finish the album. Gavin’s drumming on those tracks is really cool.”
Alder bursts into a spontaneous chorus of Kayleigh when Prog notes that Fates Warning are in a similar boat to Marillion, preferred with Fish on vocals by some listeners and others the longer-serving Hogarth.
“You’re absolutely right, man,” he observes cheerfully. “It feels odd when people call me the new singer. I’m not – I’m the other singer. It’s a pretty funny situation.”
When Jim and John worked together again as Arch/Matheos in 2011, did that let some air out of the bubble?
“I don’t know,” he ponders. “That album [Sympathetic Resonance] was originally going to be a Fates Warning album, but I wasn’t feeling it. When Jim suggested making it with John, I had worried about that causing some weirdness among the fans. You know, ‘Is Ray leaving?’ But it didn’t happen and I think the Arch/Matheos album was pretty cool. I’m sure people know that I’m not going anywhere.”
This article originally appeared in issue 115 of Prog Magazine.