Wagner, Jeff-Destination Onward:The Story Of Fates Warning (Book review)

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Reviewed:  July 2022
Published: FYI Press, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: JP

There are many books about extreme Metal bands. There are also many books about mainstream Metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Kiss and Guns n’ Roses. Oddly enough, there are very few books about progressive Metal and Power Metal bands. I have yet to figure out why that one of the largest and most popular Metal genres commands so little attention in the publishing industry. Fortunately for fans like myself there is a small but growing body of work about Prog/Power bands and DESTINATION ONWARDS is a new entry into this underserved category.

It’s about time someone wrote a book about Fates Warning and Jeff Wagner, author of the most triumphant look at Progressive Metal, MEAN DEVIATION (2010) was the right man for the job.  Wagner is a self-professed fan from the earliest days, from back when, as a teenager, would write fan letters and actually correspond with Fates Warning in their infancy.

DESTINATION ONWARD is the first and only book about Fates Warning. It is as official and endorsed as you can get with heavy participation from the band.

This biography follows the classic chronological format and takes in a winding journey, chapter-by-chapter, album-by-album across the bands entire catalogue and history. Wagner provides us with an advanced examination of the various career arcs of Fates Warning. There seems to be this perfect symmetry where the band goes through phases; the first four albums are one metallic phase, the next three albums are another more melodic phase, the next three more experimental albums seem to group together nicely, and the big comeback era (even though the band never truly went away) with the welcome return and rediscovery of heaviness culminating in three Prog-Metal masterworks. I’ve noticed this pattern in the bands career before, it naturally lends itself to the narrative and I’m glad Wagner recognized and formalized it.

Anchored by countless interviews with all the members, industry people, managers, and more, DESTINATION ONWARD has a very comprehensive feel, in that no one else will ever be able to write a book about the band that could match this. There are many semi-formal, unauthorized biographies of big bands such as Iron Maiden, where each author has an angle to resell a story that has already been told, but in this case, I don’t think anyone else could add much of value to top Wagner’s work. It would be almost pointless to try.

He covers the albums, recording processes, live albums, DVD’s, tour cycles, festival appearances and has several neat and interesting side-bars talking about things like cover tunes the band had done. I also appreciated that all eras of the band got discussed with equal enthusiasm, even the times when there were long breaks between studio albums. There are lots of great stories and anecdotes like the time Brian Slagel called Jim Matheos a poser or the entire chronicle of the infamously poor cover art choices for NIGHT ON BROKEN which ends with a ceremonial burning!

This 380+ page beauty also has many fine bonus features. There is a list of all the projects the various band members have been involved with. There are lists and album rankings, tons of photos, and all these extra features really demonstrate the connection and enthusiasm that Wagner has for the band. I am a bit surprised there was no discography, it would have been so easy to include such an important feature. I reviewed an advance digital copy so maybe the final print version will include one. Overall, the book looks great with a streamlined layout and design.

As alluded to earlier, DESTINATION ONWARD is a labour of love for Wagner. Although he is enough of a professional to maintain his biographer’s integrity to avoid writing a puff-piece that idolizes the band, there are a couple of moments where he slides close to being an apologist for some of the band’s weaker moments. For example, he heaps a fair amount of largely undeserved praise on A PLEASANT SHADE OF GREY, generally considered the bands weakest album. A glance at one of the big Metal databases collective ratings and rankings, puts APSOG dead last in the Fates Warning catalogue. Pure Metal fans didn’t like the album, pure Prog fans loved the album and the balance of Prog/Metal fans seemed largely ambivalent about it. If that if the worst criticism I can come up with, that the author likes his subject material too much, then that is not really a criticism at all!

DESTINATION ONWARDS is long overdue and a welcome treat. I’ve got any number of Metal encyclopedias in my library, at least a dozen, and Fates Warning is virtually never mentioned. I can’t think of a more deserving band to receive the deluxe biography treatment that Wagner has so superbly delivered.