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Fates Warning - Awaken The Guardian CD (album) cover


Fates Warning


Progressive Metal

3.98 | 289 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars |C+| 1986-87... Fates Warning find their sound, and become one of the main pioneers of prog metal.

Awaken the Guardian is the third album of the band Fates Warning, and is considered by most if not all fans to be their breakthrough album, commercially as well as artistically. The band has its roots in the NWBHM style as an Iron Maiden Clone. In their sophomore release was clearly trying to find their sound, with the clear goal of applying progressive composition techniques to that root style. While in the previous sophomore effort the band had some clear awkwardness applying those techniques (though having some success with the epic Epitaph) Awaken the Guardian shows that the band has found their sound, their niche in the metal world as, along with Queensryche at the time, the pioneers of what would come to be called progressive metal. Some material on the album sounds a little heavier and slightly thrash-ier and darker than previous releases, so I wouldn't be surprised it they were emulating Metallica a little, or at least listening to them during the album's creation. Possibly.

This album is far more cohesive, consistent, and creative, and is better produced, with composition that is far less awkward. The vocal melodies are still a little lackluster, but don't bog the album down nearly as much now. The members all seem to have a more even contribution to the more prog sound of the band as well, even the drummer is more creative with his patterns and fills. The transitions between sections of each song are much more convincing now, probably the biggest sign of the band's maturity in their work.

A word on John Arch, co-writer and vocalist: his vocal ability has significantly improved this album; he sings in tune much more often, with even more strength than before. I have a slight (though not well-founded) suspicion Geoff Tate inspired him to improve his range and add power to his tone, as Queensryche had released their debut two years before. Unfortunately this would also be his studio recording with the band, dropping out of the metal scene completely for many years until releasing his own EP. I think his departure might be a bit part of the reason the band would come to lose their NWBHM influences almost completely a few years after this release, the apparent fan of Iron Maiden he must have been.

Track Commentary: The opening track The Sorceress starts of very prog sounding, slow acoustic arpeggios with bass synth pads below. The guitar reverse-fades into an asymmetrically metered riff, very prog metal sounding. Time signature changes are a prominent feature in the opening track. I love the chromatically descending guitar harmonies later on. The guitar solo is in alternating 7/4 and 8/4 meter, very effective. A lot of good riffs and diversity. The second track Valley of Dolls has somewhat more thrashy and speedy feel, lots of sixteenth note chugging at Presto tempo. There's a section with nearly unpredictable meter changes. The intro into the third track Fata Morgana demonstrates that the band certainly hasn't forgone their Iron Maiden influence. I like the double-bass drum precision... I wonder when that started to be used more in metal. The song has a double- time section, playing very fast, with very tight and clean technique. Guardian starts off with some great guitar work, transitioning very effectively into a soft acoustic section layered with synth pads. This is a really solid track, with some of the band's better composed vocal melodies, and some of their best riffs yet. Prelude to Raid opens with some creative work of the drummer's less conventional patterns under power chord layering. This track almost seems somewhat in the darker, heavier vein of Metallica and Savatage. I absolutely love the reverse-fade cymbal work in the 6/4 section, totally awesome. Then we have chimes lead into a section that combines a heavy riff with acoustic guitar and low-vocal sound effects (similar to those at the end of 2112). Giant's Lore (Heart of Winter) starts off with Matheos playing very unconventional sounding heavy metal guitar chords, overall a track with high quality metal composition. Those types of heavy chords would become characteristic of the band's sound as they moved more away from the NWBHM influence. Time Long Past has a very Scorpions sound to it, layering acoustic guitar arpeggios underneath a duel lead guitar melody that is very much like what Mattias Jabs would play. I love the Picardy at the end, suddenly ending with the major chord. A short song with an obvious prog style. Exodus, the last track, continues with the sort of sound heard throughout the album, very creative metal riffs. John Arch's vocal harmonies are very much in tune this time. Ah yes, chorused clean guitar during the soft section, very 80s metal, very pretty. This moves into more of the dissonant sort of heavy guitar chords from before. The repeated riffs toward the end of the track fade out, leading into a very obscure 15 second long sound effect section, ending the album.

Especially considering that this album was released in 1986, I'm certain metal musicians who sought to make their music more creative at the time were influenced by this recording, as it demonstrates that Fates Warning was a force to be reckoned with in making unique and creative metal music. I'm sure this was a prominent album in the under-currents of metal bands' desire to move metal forward in creativity, especially considering it made the Billboard 200 in 1987. This album very much sits between a three and a four for me, but the general lack of melodic intrigue from the singer bogs the album down enough for me to round down. Awaken the Guardian is a highly recommended album for prog metal listeners, and in general a solid album for anyone who likes progressive music, especially if the NWBHM style isn't grating to your ears. Definitely an album I'll come back to listen to every so often, as I have.

Isa | 3/5 |


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