“It might be downbeat, but emotions run strong in its slowly churning depths”: Fates Warning offshoot North Sea Echoes’ Really Good Terrible Things

It’s no busman’s holiday for Ray Alder and Jim Matheos, who pursue gloomier themes than fans are used to on their debut release

North Sea Echoes - Really Good Terrible Things
(Image: © Metal Blade)

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There’s no sense of Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder and guitarist Jim Matheos taking a busman’s holiday with their first album under the guise of North Sea Echoes.

Following Alder’s revelation last year that the prog-metal mainstays would no longer record and release new material, fans might be hoping that this new partnership could fill that vacancy in the musical firmament.

However, this is an animal of a very different stripe; North Sea Echoes feels much closer to the vibe of Matheos’s Tuesday The Sky project from 2021 than anything from their main band.

Really Good Terrible Things is suffused with melancholyand longing. Alder has always possessed a talent for reflection and emotional self-examination as a lyricist, qualities evinced on his two recent solo releases, What The Water Wants and II. Where those records put his musings against a backdrop of heavy riffs, this time Alder pours out his thoughts and feelings over ambient soundscapes and acoustic guitar. 

Matheos’s playing is sparse, subtle and restrained. There are no shred workouts to stamp this as a record by a guitarist intended for guitar players. The solo in Touch The Sky is refined and unadorned, allowing Matheos to demonstrate his talent for expressing the greatest sensitivity to meet the demands of the music.

Most of the tracks feature programmed percussion that percolates in the background, although Gunnar Olsen from Puscifer plays drums on two tracks – Empty and Throwing Stones. The former is one of a few moments where the album veers towards something heavier and rockier, recalling the industrial gloom of Nine Inch Nails, qualities amplified by Olsen’s punchy drumming. Yet it’s still a sombre listen, carried on a dark, pulsing synth undercurrent.

Without the need to power through a wall of distorted guitars and metal riffage, Alder shows his range, bringing an impressively delicate touch to the elegant ballad Unmoved as he plaintively declares, ‘I’m tired of waiting here for the world to change every year.’ That sense of yearning and of emotions left unresolved runs throughout the lyrics. ‘I know sometimes I feel like we’re walking around in circles endlessly,’ he sings in Throwing Stones.

The Mission provides a shift in mood at the midpoint with a dance-pop beat, but the album closes with No Maps, reaching for a sense of home and safety.

North Sea Echoes represent a commendable and bold venture for both Alder and Matheos. Abandon any expectations of a surrogate Fates Warning and embrace the ennui. It might be downbeat, but emotions run strong in Really Good Terrible Things’ slowly churning depths.

Really Good Terrible Things is on sale now via Metal Blade.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.