While their eternal doppelgangers QUEENSRŸCHE did more to popularize "thinking man's metal", and onetime disciples DREAM THEATER turned prog-metal into a cottage industry, FATES WARNING are no less deserving of their place in progressive metal history. Their 1986 set, "Awaken the Guardian", hit a pinnacle of classic metal with a slightly technical bent and the charismatic vocals of John Arch. After this album, 18-year-old singer Ray Alder was brought in, the band streamlined their sound a bit (ironically getting dismissed as QUEENSRŸCHE clones when they took their shot at the big time), and undersexed dorks in chat rooms had a new eternal subject of argument. To this day, the Alder vs. Arch debate will still cause as much nerd apoplexy in some quarters as Ozzy vs. Dio, Dave vs. Sammy and Bush vs. Belladonna.
If "Awaken the Guardian" sounds a little blocky and primitive today, even with the remaster job on this stellar reissue (on the heels of equally impressive ARMORED SAINT and VOIVOD releases, both of which you should own), keep in mind that Jim Matheos and Co. were pretty much inventing this shit as they went along, and on a shoestring budget, too. Check out the urgent, driving "Fata Morgana", where Arch belts out some Tate-like yowls over archetypal "dun da-na-na-na-na dun" riffing, the guitarwork showing the barest hints of the more polished sound Matheos was about to head for. "Guardian" is timeless — a simple, majestic epic that takes the ragged glory of early MAIDEN and DIO-era SABBATH and boots it into ever more rarefied realms. While a lot of the so-called power metal of the day was spinning its wheels creatively, FATES WARNING were adding their quirky personality and evolving finesse to the basic rules of the genre laid down by the aforementioned masters.
Slot this one next to QUEENSRŸCHE's "The Warning", both records sounding a bit sodden and bleak, but possessed of a fog-choked timelessness, unique and inimitable (although a few present-day old-schoolers can still reach this dank vibe — JACK STARR's last album comes to mind). To some, it's a dated, but important album, a step on the road to the more clean, clear prog-metal sound the band evolved into. To others, this is the peak right here, the most powerful and most metal the band was ever going to be. Your own mileage will vary, depending on your immersion into the cult of pomp and circumstance, and what side you claim in the Great Debate. Hopefully this reissue will spark a little interest on Arch's part to continue the comeback he tentatively embarked on a few years ago, and will turn some younger heads on to the vast undercurrent of cult classics from the pre-Internet age, still lurking on vinyl and pawn-shop cassettes, ghosts of the scene that evolved into the underground metal resurgence of today.
Bonus materials include demos of several tracks, live cuts, and a DVD containing some of the only known footage of this lineup from this tour, performing many of the album's cut plus a cover of SABBATH's "Die Young" that helps put their place in the timeline in perspective. Look for a young Mike Portnoy in the crowd rocking out!