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Classic Review: Fates Warning - Awaken the Guardian
Fates Warning
Awaken the Guardian

Label: Metal Blade Records
Year released: 1986
Duration: 47:45
Tracks: 8
Genre: Progressive Metal


Review online: March 8, 2003
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
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Rated 4.73/5 (94.55%) (88 Votes)

Reviewing a masterpiece isn’t easy, but here goes: This is the third album from cutting edge New England metallers Fates Warning, and is a tour de force of a masterful band at the height of their powers. While their debut "Night on Brocken" was a rather primitive Maidenish affair highlighted by some great guitar playing, "The Spectre Within" had showed a band willing to push the boundaries of old-school heavy metal. While Fates Warning did not then sound like prog-metal, in truth they were a highly progressive and technical band even at this early date. "Guardian" is a seven-song (and one instrumental) epic of darkly mystical metal. Fates Warning has always been one of those bands you cannot compare to other bands, they are the basis for comparisons, not the other way around.

Those only familiar with Fates’ more recent material will be in for a shock here, as this is nothing like the sound they introduced on "Perfect Symmetry" and refined on "Parallels". "Guardian" is dark and heavy, with swirling, complex yet somber riffs building songs like castles. All of it topped off by the wailing vocals of John Arch. This is John’s best performance with the band, and while his vocals were always sort of nasal, he crafts beautiful and intricate vocal lines and harmonies the likes of which the band has never had since. The lyrics here, as on "Spectre", are complex and dripping with fantasy/occult references (some so obscure they’ll send you to the bookshelf so you can figure out what in heck he’s singing about).

"The Sorceress" starts the album out on just the right note, with its murky, galloping riff and dense lyrics clueing you in that this is no ordinary metal album. And by ‘dense’ I mean the chorus alone is over 40 words long.

From the opening tracks rail against the witch-trials, "Valley of the Dolls" delivers a pointed, sarcastic jab at the world of glam, again so lyrically rich and symbolic it takes a while before you notice its supposed to be satirical.

"Fata Morgana" is one of the album highlights, with glorious guitar harmonies twining with John Arch’s vocal lines. This song is either about Morgan le Fay, Morrigan, or the Snow Queen from "The Magic Flute", or all three. I can’t really tell. This is a great song, but its just a warm-up for the centerpiece of the album.

"Guardian" is bar none my favorite Fates Warning song of all time, which is only made stranger by the fact that I haven’t the foggiest idea what its about. Make what you will of it, but this is a magnificent song. Starting with a trancelike acoustic intro, building to monster riffs that climb one on top of the other to a crescendo that still leaves me breathless. "Guardian" flashes more style, skill and power in one seven-minute stretch than most bands put on a whole album.

"Prelude to Ruin" is a more simply-constructed, sweeping track with pounding riffs and again some dense lyrics topped off by some beautiful soloing. The remarkable thing about the solos on this album is not only how good they are, but how they don’t call attention to themselves, fitting seamlessly into the songs.

"Giant’s Lore" is another heavy, riff-driven track like "The Sorceress", but with an even cooler main riff and the usual arresting time-changes and fine vocal melodies. Lyrically, its based on Oscar Wilde’s story "The Selfish Giant" (!)

"Time Long Past" is a brief instrumental track, very nice, then "Exodus" sweeps in and flattens everything in sight for eight-plus minutes. The longest, most epic track on the CD, it’s the perfect closer, with the groovy closing riff swirling off into a short keyboard outro.

The CD has one of my all-time favorite covers, with a moody painting by someone called ‘Iaonnis’ – or maybe that’s a company name. It’s a cool cover anyway. The band photos will make you glad no one has photographic evidence of your haircut in ’86. Lyrics are included, which is good, though sometimes you won’t be able to figure this stuff out even with the lyrics.

After this album, Fates Warning got a new singer, and began the change in direction which would eventually bring them more exposure and success. They appealed more and more to a pseudo-Rush progressive sound, and there are probably fans of their newer stuff who have either never heard this album, or disparage it as too ‘metal’. But if so, they are really missing a jewel of an album. Not as accessible as some, it takes several listens for this one to sink in, but it’s worth it.

More about Fates Warning...
Review: Awaken the Guardian (reviewed by Larry Griffin)
Review: Awaken the Guardian (Re-issue) (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Inside Out (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: Live At The Dynamo (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Live in Athens (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: Long Day Good Night (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: Night on Brocken (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: No Exit (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Parallels (reviewed by Mjölnir)
Review: Perfect Symmetry (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: The Spectre Within (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
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