Nine years is a long time to wait no matter how you measure it. But with our home state progressive metal heroes Fates Warning there was never any worry that another disc would come and, just as importantly, that it wouldn’t sit proudly among the band’s discography. There were clues of course: last year’s Arch/Matheos project was great — and it was basically a Fates Warning disc with original singer John Arch instead of Ray Alder, who has fronted group for more than 20 years.

To some extent, Alder leads the charge on most of Darkness in a Different Light, a disc that doesn’t so much shy on musical intricacy as it really focuses on contrite songwriting. A few of these tracks would have found their way onto FM radio when there was still a place for smart and technical hard rock on the dial.

The opening “One Thousand Fires” balances guitar crunch with a melodic sensibility that is all but absent in almost all of today’s hard rock and heavy metal. It’s also an early indicator that Alder no longer has to chase high notes, instead settling comfortably into a mid-range that fits Fates’ style well. The bridge of this tune recalls the early efforts of Awaken the Guardian and No Exit, two albums that continue to warrant repeated listening to my ears. “Firefly” follows a similar pattern but has perhaps an even stronger melody. This is probably the tune that will stay with you after one listen. At barely more than 90 seconds, the acoustic ballad “Falling” seems to go against every progressive rock rule, but it works wonderfully even stacked against the more complex “I Am“ that follows. On “Lighthouse” Alder’s voice takes on an almost theatrical quality in the relaying of the lyrics, not so different from what has made the Trans-Siberian Orchestra an international phenomenon (albeit a seasonally-based one). Only “Kneel and Obey” sounds more like an idea than a carefully crafted songs.

That’s not to say Darkness in a Different Light skimps on instrumental mastery. The rhythm section of drummer Bobby Jarzombek and bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint) takes a backseat to none in the world of classic metal. Guitarists Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti have been playing together since 1986, which means at this point creates a six-string interplay that is second nature.

It’s not until the final cut, “And Yet It Moves” that Fates gets knotty and reminds us that Matheos is at heart a prog/math rocker. At fourteen minutes, it moves in and out of acoustic and electric sections. It’s no less awesome than the nine more relatively album-length cuts that precede it. Not surprisingly, Alder is in fine form, floating over the technicality the musicians create below him.

This is being written on National Heavy Metal Day (11/11, according to VH1 Classic), here’s a nod to the (melodic) old-school.