Album of the Week 12-2014: Fates Warning – Awaken The Guardian

Back when being a Prog Metal band didn’t automatically mean that you tried to sound as close to Dream Theater as possible, the scene was incredibly interesting. Bands like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory and Psychotic Waltz combined the riffs and twin guitars of Iron Maiden and US Power Metal and mixed them with the ambition of Rush. Early in their carreer, with their original singer John Arch still at the helm, Fates Warning released two fantastic records in ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’. I love both albums equally and which one I prefer doesn’t depend on anything else than my mood.

‘Awaken The Guardian’ is distinguished by its twin guitar melodies, NWOBHM and Power Metal influenced riffs courtesy of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti, dreamy atmosphere and Arch’s lead vocals. While this may not quite be progressive enough for today’s Proghead – with the main progressive elements being the odd meters that sometimes pop up as well as the greater amount of complexity than was common at the time in the songwriting department – this is a mighty fine Metal record still to this day.  And its influence is perennial. Even bands from outside of the Prog Metal spectrum – think of US Power Metal band Steel Prophet and epic Doom Metallers While Heaven Wept – owe a great debt to this record.

Part of what makes this record more interesting than the average Prog record to me is the fact that the songs are so well-written. Many bands in the genre these days write stuff that is much more complex and technically demanding than this, but they can’t write a good hook to save their lives. ‘Awaken The Guardian’ is full of good choruses and hooks. Even if they’re wordless; the chorus part of the celestial ‘Fata Morgana’ has no lyrics, but a fantastic vocal melody by Arch that is bound to cause sheer euphoria with those who hear it.

Naming highlights would be pointless, given the fact that the album – like many albums in the genre – is best listened to in its entirity. Some of the albums that stood out for me personally are the aforementioned ‘Fata Morgana’, the relatively Thrashy ‘Valley Of The Dolls’ with its awesome Jim Matheos riffs, the dreamy ‘Guardian’ and the monstrous closing epic ‘Exodus’. Opening track ‘The Sorceress’ is probably the most progressive track on the record with its fairly large number of odd metres and is amazing as such.

Following ‘Awaken The Guardian’, Arch left the band and with Ray Alder fronting, Fates Warning gradually moved to a more contemporary Prog Metal sound. These early classics still sound fresh and awesomely Metal today. It would take Jim Matheos and Jon Arch until the new century to reunite with two fantastic releases under their own names and Fates Warning is still around, making good records with Alder. They even came close to this fantastic record recently with ‘Darkness In A Different Light’. ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’, however, still stand as the band’s highlights for yours truly. Obligated for fans of early Prog.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fata Morgana’, ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Guardian’

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