Day 19 of the #mayvinylchallenge asks for the album it took the longest to find. This is for those treasure seekers, and I admit I haven’t reached that level of addict yet. It may also be that the stuff I’m looking for is readily available for the most part, and I’m not that picky when it comes to original or first pressings. So instead let’s talk about the album it took the longest to get to me: Awaken the Guardian, the progressive heavy metal masterpiece from Fates Warning. As one of the earliest vinyl records I ever bought as a 13 year old kid, it was one of the first I wanted to replace when I started collecting again.
Let’s get the story out of the way quick. I missed the last couple of reissues from Metal Blade for the record, so it was (and still is, I believe) out of print. Crate digging at my local shops wasn’t turning any up, so I went to Discogs and found a pristine, sealed copy of the last reissue in Germany for a decent price and ordered. The seller was fantastic, shipping it the next day and providing me tracking that the album was being processed and ready to move forward.
That was November 6th, 2020.
Four and a half months later toward the end of March I received my still pristine copy of Awaken the Guardian.
COVID…what can you do? I’ll note before continuing that what I DIDN’T do was blame or harass the seller. Wasn’t his fault, and he rocked in every other aspect. But now that the story is out of the way, let’s talk about why this record is still so good.
It doesn’t necessarily begin and end with the incendiary performance of John Arch on vocals, but that’s as solid a place to begin as any. It may have been the distinctive album art by Ioannis that drew me to Awaken the Guardian, but it was Arch’s performance from opening cut “The Sorceress” onward that hooked me. No one was crafting vocal melodies like that…not in metal, anyway. When you couple that with the sharp progressive slant guitarist Jim Matheos was adding to the band’s solid metal foundation Fates Warning became a band that didn’t sound like anything else out there. Side 1 moves through the first three tracks with abandon, but for it’s “Guardian” where they suddenly coalesce into the band I would come to love forever after. It contains propulsive, twisting riffs and a towering performance from Arch, who goes into ultra epic, anthemic mode during the choruses.
That level of excellence continues to Side 2, with “Prelude to Ruin” being another highlight. There may be a bit of bottom end locking in the production, but for a slick, typical 80s Metal Blade production it serves the songwriting well, allowing all the riffs and solo work to shine through without getting muddled or muffled. The more I listen, the more all of Side 2 feels like the perfect Fates Warning side. It’s nothing but epic, gargantuan tunes that border on power metal with their complexity and ability to move you. “Giant’s Lore (Heart of Winter)” and the massive “Exodus” are still some of the best songs the band have put down.
As the closing statement from this iteration of Fates Warning (at least until Arch would reunite with Matheos for their great side project almost 30 years later) it stands as a singular entity in metal, ever to be imitated. As one fo the defining albums of my youth, I’m just glad to have it back in my vinyl collection, serving to remind me what it was like to discover something new and amazing all those years ago.