Review by Daniel for Fates Warning - Night on Bröcken (1984)
"Night On Bröcken" is a record that’s more significant from a timeline point of view than from an artistic one as it represents the more humble beginnings of one of the more iconic US metal bands of the 80’s. Connecticut five-piece Fates Warning would go on to become one of the most important bands in the development of the progressive metal subgenre & they remain a metal powerhouse still to this day but their debut full-length represents their more humble of beginnings with the Metal Blade Records backed release sporting a sound that showed very little in the way of invention or artistic license.
The crude cover art gives you a strong indication that the album might not be as polished as the rest of the band’s star studded back catalogue & that definitely proves to be the case with Fates Warning simply testing the waters by emulating their NWOBHM heroes. It’s interesting that the album title is referring to a German mountain that’s famous for its association with witches as referenced in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play “Faust”. The title of Stormwitch’s debut album “Walpurgis Night” from around the same time is actually referring to the night that the witches traditionally met at the top of Bröcken so it seems to have been a popular topic for metal bands of the time.
The production job on “Night On Brocken” isn’t horrible but it is a little inconsistent with some songs sounding a little flatter than others. You can clearly hear all of the instruments but the overall sound comes across as pretty dry which is more in line with what you’d expect from a well put together demo tape. Interestingly, Metal Blade house producer Bill Metoyer was behind the mixing desk along with label head Brian Slagel & it’s pretty clear that they were still finding their way as far as how to package a professional sounding metal release goes but this is not a disaster by any means.
The thing that most makes “Night On Brocken” stand out from the rest of the Fates Warning back catalogue though is the style of music it presents with very little in the way of genuinely progressive material on display here. Instead we get a straight down the line NWOBHM direction with Iron Maiden being the primary influence. So much in fact, that I regard a lot of this album as pure plagiarism. The galloping riffs & harmonized guitar lines all sound oh so familiar & you can often pick the exact songs they’ve been crafted around. The album does have a somewhat more US feel to it though which is probably as much to do with the production as anything else, particularly the guitar sound.
But it’s iconic front man John Arch who is the most noticeably trying to clone the mighty Irons & while there are certainly moments when you struggle to tell that this isn’t Bruce Dickinson himself there are more where he just sounds like an average imitation. There are times when Queensryche’s Geoff Tate springs to mind too actually but even though he’s the clear focal point of the band, it’s an inconsistent performance from Arch here as some of the songs see him sounding quite pitchy or straining to reach the more mid-range notes in his repertoire. He seems much more capable with the higher pitched screams but for all his failings he IS the most memorable feature of Fates Warning’s sound at this early stage. When he gets it right we see Fates Warning’s best moments & I have to say that I find them difficult not to enjoy.
The musicianship on display isn’t of the same sort of standard as that we would hear on Fates Warning’s progressive metal counterparts Queensryche’s debut E.P. a year prior but they’d show a lot of development in that area over the next year or so. The sort of technical wizardry we’ve become used to hearing from the prog metal elite was beyond them at this point but they were certainly a more than serviceable heavy metal band. And for that reason I struggle with the common consensus that “Night On Bröcken” was a failed venture. Yes, it clearly showcases a young band that was still very much finding their sound & was more comfortable to simply test the waters with a safe & generic brand of song-writing but it’s pretty well put together nonetheless & I find myself enjoying around two thirds of the material here. The weaker songs aren’t horrible. They’re just a bit flat sounding with their more generic & basic riffs providing little to get enthusiastic about. The stronger material on the other hand offers enough in the way of soaring vocal lines, chuggy metal riffage & general enthusiasm to keep this old metalhead reasonably engaged even if the album lacks those couple of genuine highlight tracks to make it truly memorable. I’d recommend that fans of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest & Queensryche give the album a chance but it’s doubtful that you’ll find anything too life-changing.