Artist: Ray Alder
Album Title: What The Water Wants
Label: InsideOut Music
Date of Release: 18 October 2019
The latest album in my quest to catch up with the best music to have been released during 2019 whilst I have been off-grid, is this, ‘What The Water Wants’ by Ray Alder. The name will need little or no introduction to connoisseurs of progressive music, Alder being the long-term voice of US prog metal juggernaut Fates Warning. He also performed vocal duties on more than a handful of Redemption records with great success also.
The guy has pedigree and rightfully so given his incredible service behind the microphone over the last three decades or so. Effortless, smooth and dripping with emotion, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced a lump in the throat upon listening to a song or two in which he has been involved, whatever the vehicle.
Around the turn of the millennium, Alder put out a couple of records under the name ‘Engine’ to avoid the releases being seen as solo efforts, although to all intents and purposes, they were exactly that. So in 2019, ‘What The Water Wants’ is the first album to bear the name Ray Alder in all its glory. And by goodness, it’s one hell of a ‘debut’.
I’d heard a few positive noises on social media from those in the know, but I reserved judgement and didn’t listen to anything prior to getting access to the entire disc. Now that I have it and have had the opportunity to listen to it with close scrutiny, I must admit to being mightily impressed. And not just with the vocal performance of Ray Alder, but with the collection of songs that find their way onto the album.
In creating ‘What The Water Wants’, Alder has been joined by guitarists Mike Abdow (touring guitarist for Fates Warning) and Tony Hernando (Lords of Black) alongside drummer Craig Anderson (Ignite). Interestingly, rather than recruit a bespoke bassist, both guitarists decided to handle the four-string duties for the songs to which they contributed most. According to the accompanying press release, the songs were created initially by Abdow and Hernando, with Alder then adding his vocals and melodies to the framework. It is an approach that really has worked because the final finished article is very good indeed.
Given that this album features the talents of two musicians involved to varying levels with Fates Warning, it is not surprising that there are a few songs out of the ten here that could quite easily have featured on a Fates release. As a long-tern fan of Fates, this really isn’t something that you could refer to as being a negative. And, in any case, there is enough distance between Fates Warning and the bulk of this material to ensure that ‘What The Water Wants’ displays its own firm identity and provides listeners with something different enough to explore. At its core, while there’s a prog element, there’s more of a straight-up hard rock or melodic metal feel, where melody and impact are deemed the most important elements. The songs, unsurprisingly, also allow a chance for Ray Alder to take centre stage and shine, as he does throughout.
What I like about the material most however, is its succinctness. The tracks range from between 3:45 and 5:47 in length, with the majority weighing in comfortably within the middle of this range. It means that the album is a delightful 45 minutes or so in length and is easily digestible in a single sitting. Moreover, there’s very little material that can be considered unnecessary, irrelevant or filler. Instead, my attention almost never wanders, with each track offering something interesting, compelling or engaging to experience.
That said, there are some great, chunky riffs to get your teeth stuck into and the bass work from both of the two guitarists cannot be ignored as it dominates at times. Take the opener, ‘Lost’, the pulsing intro to ‘Crown of Thorns’ or the final track, ‘The Killing Floor’ as examples; the rumbling bass within the latter is floor-shaking and creates an ominous, monstrous feel to a track that is also arguably the most epic-sounding on the entire disc with a great performance from all corners of the band.
I love the passionate and quasi-screamed vocals that appear within ‘Lost’, accenting the catchy and crunchy chorus beautifully, setting the album off in fine fashion. ‘Some Days’ is a quieter, more subdued track but which benefits from some delicate, heartfelt lyrics and a wonderful sprawling chorus that is made all the more powerful by the subtlety that is displayed in and around it.
‘Shine’ reveals a punchier, heavier structure with some great riffs and electric energy, once again giving way to an arresting chorus full of melody. The same can be said of most of the songs to be honest but one of my favourites has to be ‘Under Dark Skies’, which is catchy in the extreme.
Then there’s the poignant and bittersweet ‘The Road’, that features some very raw lyrics and sends a shiver or two up and down my spine as I listen and digest the sentiment contained within. But trust me, it is testing my resolve not to name-check every song here, because they all genuinely deserve it.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Alder was responsible for the truly excellent production, aided only in the mixing by Simone Mularone. The production only serves to enhance the material and give every instrument the punch and clarity that it needs.
Overall, ‘What The Water Wants’ is a very fine record indeed, that not only showcases Alder’s vocal skills expertly but also demonstrates his talents in the songwriting department. If you’re a fan of Ray Alder, I cannot conceive of a reason as to why you’d not almost immediately love this album. It’s impossible.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from 2019:
Borknagar – True North
Leprous – Pitfalls
Myrath – Shehili
Prehistoric Animals – Consider It A Work Of Art
Voyager – Colours In The Sun
Odd Logic – Last Watch Of The Nightingale
Avandra – Descender
Darkwater – Human
ZW Band / Zonder Wehrkamp – If It’s Real
Teramaze – Are We Soldiers
Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos
Our Destiny – Awakening
Evergrey – The Atlantic
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: