On the one hand I love doing classic reviews like this, because I get to write about an album that I love. And on the other hand I hate it, because an album like this is so fucking great I have trouble getting started. What to say about a classic? This was the third album from FATES WARNING, their last with original singer John Arch and the best in their original style. After this album they turned more and more to the RUSHy, Prog Rock sound that culminated on "Parallels", but this was, and remains my favourite of their works.
FW are one of those bands that other bands get compared to, so making comparisons can be hard. On their first album there had been a dominant IRON MAIDEN influence, but "The Spectre Within" had shown them to be a more experimental and musical band, and "Awaken The Guardian" continues their voyage to a more involved and complex sound. The album is founded on deep, complicated riffing, intricate lyrics and the wailing vocals of John Arch. I call their songwriting 'complex', but I don't mean in a DREAM THEATER way, as there is no instrumental wanking or aggressively showy playing on this CD. FATES WARNING took the basic Metal style and made it more complex without turning it into something else. Instead of three-stroke power chord riffs they built their songs on handfuls of full six-string riffs spiked with chunky rhythm parts and time shifts. You would think songs this involved would not be catchy, and on a casual listen they aren't, but after a few listens this stuff sinks in and never lets go. From the dark, heavy opening of "The Sorceress" begins a parade of first-rate songs: the volleying, harmonic "Fata Morgana", the epic "Prelude To Ruin" and "Exodus", and the album's centrepiece and my favourite all-time FW song: "Guardian".
It is impossible to really separate the lyrics and the vocals, as both are the work of the legendary John Arch. Arch wrote more complex melody lines than FATES WARNING have ever had since, with lots of double and triple-tracking to create harmonies and descants. He has a kind of nasal tenor that maybe won't grab you right off, but you get used to it quickly. His lyrics are something else altogether, and those only familiar with the ee cummings-inspired introspection of FW later albums will be in for a shock. John Arch wrote the most dense, involved and occult lyrics I have seen outside of NILE. The lyrics for even a shorter song like "Fata Morgana" take a good chunk of the booklet. The chorus for "The Sorceress" for example, is over 40 words long - when I said dense I meant dense. Many of his references will send you running to the bookshelf to try and figure out what the Hell he is talking about, even if you have a pretty good occult background. Even when you can track down the references, you may not be able to figure out what the song is about. The lyrics are all very cool, however, and FATES WARNING has not had anything remotely like them since.
For 80s Metal, this is as good as it gets, and this is pretty close to perfect by the standards of any era. FATES WARNING may have found a wider audience with their more accessible later works, but this is the one that does it for me. "Awaken The Guardian" has that magic of a truly classic album, and no other FW album will ever be able to replace it in my affections. Mandatory. (Online November 8, 2003)