St. Paul, Minnesot'as True Metal Record Store (RIP as of Dec. 24, 2015)
Despite the vast free resources of the Internet, and despite working in a well-stocked specialty metal record store replete with attractive and impeccably knowledgeable staff, it is still possible for us at Into the Void USA to find ourselves caught off-guard by a classic metal release so compelling we have to share our experience with it here.
With that, Into the Void USA presents the first in The Overlooked series. May it stoke the fires of metal discovery in all who follow it, or draw the ire and derision of anybody who wishes to laugh at our gross stupidity for missing out on these albums for 25 years.
FATES WARNING (USA) — Awaken the Guardian
Metal Blade Records, 1986
In metal, context is king. For a guy who started with death metal while it was still a growing genre and eventually worked his way backward, the notion of linear progress became my only handhold for anything I didn’t hear when it was first released. Notice the little year I put by the label by sheer force of habit; the cataloging tendency is definitely an inborn trait.
The linear progress idea is worse for me in spades for unfamiliar genres, among which I count traditional and/or progressive metal. But the older I get, the more jaded I become, the more I’m willing to hear random “classics” and the more I tell myself: fuck linear progress.
And by extension, fuck the term “progressive” — a label that gets bandied about for FATES WARNING quite often. I’m not actually sure if anybody calls Awaken the Guardian progressive, but musically it has enough of those trappings to incite the screechy voiced and acne-scarred declarations from Progressive Metal Fans, which I’m sure is 90 percent of the reason I avoided it until very recently.
Thankfully, these trappings on Awaken the Guardian are primarily rhythmic. There’s a lot of low-key asymmetry, delivered almost entirely at middling tempos with what I would consider typical IRON MAIDEN-style tonality. It works brilliantly by creating constant tension without the overwhelming instrumentation that gets so god-awful boring so quickly in the normal “progressive” affairs. In fact, the songs are so meticulously crafted and executed that I have no comments whatsoever on the individual performances; they truly need to be considered as one. They even make the dickless power ballad “Guardian” interesting enough. That should be an endorsement all by itself.
If the songwriting can rightfully be called solid, even granitic, it should merely be considered a foundation for John Arch’s otherworldly performance on the album, his last with the band. Although somewhat subdued in the mix, he announces his presence with incredible range and what are often bizarre vocal lines. His highs lilt, dive and strike and vibrate with the aplomb of virtuoso lead guitarist and, to these ears, seem to have been crafted with that in mind. Coupled with his counter-rhythms, strange syllabic insertions and semi-illiterate lyrical content (seriously, try to sing some of the more complex lines without the lyric sheet, and then try to decipher what the hell they mean in proper English) Awaken the Guardian reaches it’s complete potential. A completely addictive classic in a subgenre I’m still working to (and may never) understand.
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