Engraved with pain
You will find them under shadows
Some, it's all they'll ever know
Angels of the fortunate sons come and go
You may not"
One Word Review: Pristine
Some albums never grow old.
Awaken The Guardian is the evolutionary peak of Fates Warning's John Arch era. It is an album that is unique on every level and cannot be compared to anything else I have ever heard. To my ears it is the perfect marriage of heavy metal, progressive experiments and an atmosphere bordering on mystical, all wrapped up in an unflinching, no-compromise delivery. Awaken The Guardian builds on their previous two albums, Night on Bröcken and The Spectre Within, and adds a spice that has since become extinct from music of this world.
The album was released in 1986 and with most things that are truly innovative, Fates Warning were pioneers of this style at the time and succeeded in creating a sound that was their own. The result is far from commercial, somewhat introverted and incredibly challenging, even to the observant listener. This means that even though I found the album instantly captivating, I still find it fresh and abound with new detail two decades and several hundred listens after discovering it.
Individually, each musician is a treat to focus on, but combined they create a vast and wonderful musical universe that can be explored endlessly.
The guitar riffs are incredibly heavy and vary constantly. Frank Aresti has replaced Victor Arduini and together with main songwriter, Jim Matheos, delivers an absolute firework of guitar bliss. The guitar sound is seriously addictive, with a thick crunch and it often brings on thoughts of Black Sabbath, only heavier and more aggressive. Listening to the guitar detail throughout the album is a thrilling adventure.
Steve Zimmerman on drums and Joe DiBiase on bass lay the perfect groove and give the album a tight, yet relaxed feel. Zimmerman shines throughout the whole album with creative fills and impressive skill. There is a special vibe to his drumming that simply fits the band. Joe DiBiase on bass is mostly far back in the thick sound, but close listening will be rewarded, as for example, in the beginnings of Fata Morgana and Prelude to Ruin.
The one element, that makes a world of difference is vocalist John Arch. His voice is like an otherworldly entity that imbue the songs with a mystical atmosphere and boundless emotion. No one, and I mean no one, before or since, sings like this. John Arch is truly unique. The closest successor I have found would be Rick Mythiasin on the Redemption debut.
There are countless moments on the album, where I find myself amazed at the vocal melodies John Arch conjures or the little detail in his voice, which suddenly adds a whole other layer to the atmosphere. He becomes another instrument in a vast musical landscape. I had a pretty hard time compiling the following top five of my favorite John Arch moments on the album. These are all true spine chillers.
Top five John Arch moments:
1. Exodus at 5:00 - Never has a scream sounded so utterly melodic. That vocal melody sets the song off down a powerful road and my favorite passage of the entire album.
2. Guardian at 4:51 - "I had a dream I was you, Strong as the fire in my veins"
3. Fata Morgana at 3:50 - "Morrigan upon her throne. She's a mirrored mirage of my desire..."
4. Giant's Lore at 4:01 - "His frost bitten heart".
5. Prelude to Ruin at 5:40 - "Time, time, time, an imaginary line. Mine not yours nor yours mine".
Numbers 2, 3 and 5 are all unexpected and completely disarming vocal melodies. Words fail me when trying to describe the genius of John Arch's singing. He has to be heard, and felt.
Each song stands out in its own way, with individual strength and detail making an impact upon repeated listens. My personal favorites would be The Sorceress, Fata Morgana, Guardian and Exodus, but they only outperform the rest by a small margin.
The dense lyrics feel like an impregnable wall of metaphors just waiting to be decoded. Even with its mystical base, the lyrics have some comments on society, shallowness and religion. Most importantly, the lyrics suit the music perfectly and add to the atmosphere.
So many timeless moments inhabit each song that it is almost too easy to draw forward just one from each. For instance the way John Arch adds intensity to the last chorus of The Sorceress, the way he embellishes the word Holocaust in Valley of the Dolls, the dual lead guitar attack opening Fata Morgana, the jaw-dropping first minute of Guardian, the splendid guitar solo that follows the first chorus of Giant's Lore along with the one after the ensuing verse, the way the drumming gives the beginning of Prelude to ruin an especially cool rythm and last but certainly not least, the incredible harmonies that flow through the chorus of the album's almighty ending epic, Exodus.
I have to deepen my impression of one song in particular as it really shows what Fates Warning is capable of. The 7+ minute Guardian is an emotional and tense musical journey with a rise and a release that is simply phenomenal. Soft acoustic verses lead beautifully to heavy and ultra melodic chorus sections. The song weaves in and out of different passages and near the end it rises in intensity and speed in an unforgettable bridge section.
Metal Blade re-released the album as a 2CD + 1DVD package back in 2005 and it is worth picking up even if you have the original. 3 demo recordings and exciting live material make up the bonus material.
Classic, masterpiece or crown jewel? You can decide for yourself. Each of these declarations work for me. Awaken The Guardian is a sonic feast of incredible depth that deserves to be discovered and cherished with the utmost respect by those who appreciate the finer detail.
Written By Steen
Online: Friday, September 27, 2013