Subtlety, finesse, nuance tend not to be the words you instinctively associate with progressive metal. Yet Ray Alder’s first solo album, What the Water Wants with InsideOut Music, is an admirable, at times even eloquent demonstration of a vocal prowess which is impressive both in terms of the diversity it displays as well as the confident deftness with which he approaches the material being offered.
Probably best known as the intense and energetic lead singer for Fates Warning since joining the band for No Exit in 1988, his performances for them are a captivating blend of assured power, focused depth and passionate excitement. With the release of What the Water Wants, Alder gets the chance to stretch his legs and prove, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that his voice possesses engaging, if not unexpected levels of refinement and sophistication.
The success of the album is built on a soundstage which is impressively expansive, providing the perfect context within which the clarity, as well as the expressive range, of his voice is enhanced and highlighted. Alder enlists the guitar talents of Mike Abdow (touring guitarist for Fates Warning) and Tony Hernando (Lords of Black) with Craig Anderson (Ignite, Crescent Shield) on drums. Both guitarists provide the bass lines for the tracks to which they have contributed most, which creates a fascinating diversity of styles, tones and emphases.
Opening track Lost does little to shake your expectations about the kind of music you may be about to hear, but don’t let that fool you. The early signs are already here. In the transitions linking to a chorus which is bombastic, anthemic and full throttle, keep an ear open for what else is going on. Alder’s vocals have power, yes. But his voice is also smooth, subtle in texture and carried on a moody, echo-filled soundscape. Even in full flow, the layers of the melody carry a certain wistfulness embedded in the power.
Indeed, where you expect a sense of confidence and triumph, what we are given is actually an album laden with thoughtful reflection and almost introspective emotion. It is not until we reach Shine, track 4, that we return to anything like full-blown progressive metal. Crunching opening guitars are precise, aggressive and spectacularly menacing; the music segues into passages which carry unapologetic djent signatures and influences. But here again, all is not what it seems. The underlying heaviness is, in fact, a support mechanism to deliver a wonderfully melodic vocal that soars above and stands in contrast to the riffing carnage, a tranquil melody adding the full stop to tumultuous guitar-laden seas.
Crown of Thorns brings us something entirely unexpected: playfulness. The track begins – and is structured around – an upbeat and undulating repeating bass line. The rest of the instrumentation weaves its way around the bass theme, where Alder’s vocal forms a kind of homage to the music of the ’70s in the way it spins a melody which dances among the varying layers. Bass features heavily again on The Killing Floor, but this time it is used to create a daunting, ominous mood of threatening, intimidation which conditions the atmosphere and structures the tone of the whole song.
As if to make a point, Some Days offers us something new again. The song has a stripped back arrangement to take advantage of the spacious soundstage; the lyrics are heavy with mournful regret, the tempo and the vocals focused, still forceful but very much subdued. This is picked up again in The Road, deftly gentle, you suspect touchingly personal, tinged with troubled emotion. In similar vein, Under Dark Skies is equally as raw, disturbing, with a beautiful chorus which takes aim directly at the soul.
If you give it a chance and if you forgive it its directness, What the Water Wants rewards you with a musical experience that is succinct, concise and to the point. There is no fluff. There are no intricate adornments, no excess demonstrations of prowess. It’s a forthright and fascinating collection of diverse songs which gradually build a compelling momentum and clearly appears to have a lot of fun in the process.
01. Lost (3:45)
02. Crown Of Thorns (4:53)
03. Some Days (4:34)
04. Shine (4:53)
05. Under Dark Skies (3:58)
06. A Beautiful Lie (4:10)
07. The Road (5:38)
08. Wait (4:36)
09. What The Water Wanted (3:46)
10. The Killing Floor (5:47)
* Bonus Track
11. The Road (Acoustic Version) (4:51)
Total Time – 51:00
Ray Alder – Vocals
Mike Abdow – Guitars
Craig Anderson – Drums
Tony Hernando – Guitars
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Format: CD, Digital, Vinyl
Date of Release: 18th October 2019