Though they'd pretty much come to epitomize the very essence of progressive metal over the years with their ever-challenging work, Fates Warning had surprisingly never committed to a full-on concept album -- almost a prerequisite of the genre. That is, until 1997's ambitious A Pleasant Shade of Gray, which corrected this oversight with 12 tracks forming a single, Herculean magnum opus. But while it offers up another helping of rhythmically complex progressive metal full of intricately woven time changes, this is no Operation: Mindcrime. The guitar riffs and melodic hooks contained here are simply not that memorable, requiring way too many listens before leaving any lasting impressions and overshadowing the band's remarkable musicianship. There are no song titles either; each track is identified as "Part I," "Part II," etc., with perhaps the most memorable moments taking place on "Part IV" through "Part VIII" (the last, a loving tribute to Kansas if ever there was one). All told, A Pleasant Shade of Gray is a challenging listen and not for the faint of heart.
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey