Fates Warning: Awaken the Guardian (Expanded Edition)

Adrien Begrand

The influential progressive metal album gets the deluxe treatment.

Fates Warning

Awaken the Guardian (Expanded Edition)

Label: Expanded Edition
US Release Date: 2005-06-28
UK Release Date: 2005-06-13
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

"Very often fans and critic credit Dream Theater for creating a whole new genre of progressive metal music in the late '90s/early '90s," writes Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, "But the truth is Fates Warning were doing it years before us." Indeed, while Dream Theater popularized the distinctive, technically adventurous, operatic sounds that became known as prog metal, a handful of young bands during the early '80s had already laid the groundwork. Heavily derived from equal parts Rush and early Judas Priest, young bands such as Queensryche, Crimson Glory, Savatage, and Fates Warning brought a sense of musical flash to the fledgling American metal underground, combining complicated arrangements with powerful, British metal riffs, sung by supremely skilled, charismatic frontmen.

While the collective talent of these bands was undeniable, theirs was a style that was challenging, even to the metal crowd, and it wasn't until late in the decade that the sound would begin to grow in popularity. Queensryche toned down the bombast in favor of a more accessible sound, with very successful results, Savatage flirted with the big time before the onset of grunge and the death of a member cut their run short, and Crimson Glory simply faded away. Fates Warning, however, have faithfully stayed the course for over 20 years now, and thanks to a superb reissue by the band's one and only label, Metal Blade, we can experience the best album in their catalog in depth.

The third volume in what is turning out to be an outstanding series of deluxe treatments of classic Metal Blade releases, Fates Warning's 1986 opus Awaken the Guardian, could not be more deserving. Regarded by the majority of fans as the band's finest moment, the album became an instant underground classic when it was originally released, setting the template that such bands as the aforementioned Dream Theater, Symphony X, and Nevermore would follow in the next decade. For the longest time, though, it remained somewhat of a buried gem. While American metal was exploding in popularity, labels like Metal Blade were left trying to compete with all the major label signings (including Slayer, who left Metal Blade in 1985). It was bad enough radio wouldn't touch metal music, mainstream or otherwise, but on such a small label, it was next to impossible for bands like Fates Warning to raise the money to film videos, the most effective method of promoting metal at the time, and as a result, were forced to rely strictly on word of mouth.

Those who did catch on the band during the mid-'80s knew they were witnessing something special. Like practically every other young American metal band at the time, their 1984 debut Night on Brocken was fairly run-of-the-mill British metal homage, but 1985's The Spectre Within was a major breakthrough, as the band started to dabble in more creative songwriting (see "The Apparition" and "Kyrie Eleison"), led by guitarist/primary songwriter Jim Matheos and the multi-octave vocal stylings of singer John Arch. If The Spectre Within nudged the door open, the follow-up Awaken the Guardian kicked it down, and the new reissue only further proves how truly one of a kind this record is. Like the softly-toned, eye-catching cover artwork, the music lives in a world of its own.

If there's any other record that can compare sonically to Awaken the Guardian, it's Queensryche's debut full-length The Warning, as it possesses the same heavy tones and the same shrieking lead vocals. But where Queensryche tentatively delve into progressive sounds, Fates Warning lose themselves in them. Each of the eight tracks are epic in scope and dizzying in their ambition, and to this day, it requires several listens before it can begin to settle in.

A normal band would have taken a fantastic riff like the opening chords of opening track "The Sorceress", and constructed a simple, catchy tune around it, but not Fates Warning, who launch into verses laden with complex vocal melodies and bookish lyrics, Arch's slightly nasal alto voice careening in every direction imaginable. Only the barest trace of a hook is discernable: after an extremely dense, decidedly non-catchy chorus of, "She flies the ocean shores of Kildare / Over tombs of the happy fields / Lonely girls ride the great beast," right as the song is on the brink of losing the listener for good, Arch pipes in with the line, the song's one brief hook, "Virginal goddess of hunt, Diana," as the opening riff returns. That sly use of innocuous melodies and fleeting reprises of opening riffs is ingenious, as the band toss listeners a quick bone before flying off into unpredictable territory once more.

The remastered album, which sounds more powerful than it ever has before, is loaded with astounding moments. "Valley of the Dolls" is the closest thing to a straightforward metal song, with a mere three time signature changes, highlighted by a glorious, stomping opening riff. "Guardian" achieves an understated majesty, shifting from acoustic guitar-driven verses to a gently soaring, remarkably subtle chorus, before exploding into a brief, Iron Maiden-style gallop during the bridge. The stunning "Fata Morgana" is the best example of the band's increased skill at crafting unique melodies, featuring great dual guitar melodies by Matheos and Frank Aresti, Arch's verses punctuated brilliantly by a contagious backing vocal hook. "Prelude to Ruin" steals the show, Matheos and Aresti's guitar work sounding titanic, and Arch's vocals downright Olympian, the trio flying off on wild tangents that rival Mercyful Fate's 1984 classic Don't Break the Oath, the song held together flawlessly by drummer Steve Zimmerman.

Like the recent re-releases of Armored Saint's Symbol of Salvation and Voivod's seminal War and Pain, Awaken the Guardian is crammed with extras designed to thrill longtime fans, but might prove to be too much for first-time listeners. The second disc features demo versions of "The Sorceress", "Valley of the Dolls", and "Prelude to Ruin", as well as a handful of live tracks, including a great version of early track "The Apparition" and a scorching cover of Black Sabbath's "Die Young". The third disc, a DVD featuring the only known video footage of the band during the John Arch era, is decidedly lacking in quality, but despite the roughshod, amateurish camera work and the muddy audio, the Long Island, New York club performance is nonetheless a valuable piece of history, an ultra-rare glimpse of the band at their creative peak.

Awaken the Guardian hearkens back to a period where the sky was the limit for American metal music, where, it seemed, a classic album was released every couple of months. It was a time where bands were completely unafraid to be unique, when they cared about a song's melody and structure as much as they did the sheer brute force of the music, something that seems to be lost on many young bands today. Arch would eventually leave the band in 1987, and although the band's late '80s albums with new singer Ray Alder would net stronger sales, such a stirring combination of traditional metal and progressive sounds would never be duplicated by the band. Awaken the Guardian still resonates with life today, and this fine reissue only solidifies Fates Warning's place in metal history.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.