Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
1986, Metal Blade Records
So it happened more rapidly and with less pomp or excitement than I had imagined. Twenty-nine: despite the (not so) polite reminders of the soon to come big three-oh, I feel no older, and certainly no wiser. And somehow, as I begrudgingly accepted this, the commencement of the last year of my twenties, I started to reflect on where it all really began for me – and could think of no better record that perfectly represented my musical coming of age.
The first and greatest influence in my life has undoubtedly been my father. College rocker, jazz afficionado and multi-instrumentalist, he also studied extensively under the great Carnatic vocalist, D. K. Jayaraman. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandparents’ house, exploring with curiosity traditional Indian instruments like the veena, tambura, and mridangam. But, whilst blessed with some natural talent for singing, the fluid nature of my childhood, constantly moving across cities, and indeed continents, meant I was afforded little opportunity to train formally for any significant length of time. Sadly, a few basic scales and the mournful dirge of the shruti box are all I have retained from my own Carnatic education.
My mother harboured hopes that I would become a great piano virtuoso. Where others saw a chubby, clumsy child, my mother saw a raw affinity for music that she tried to harness into some disciplined form. She sent me to piano lessons twice a week, but I soon became disheartened. I struggled to read music, getting by almost exclusively on muscle memory. Overcome by frustration and tired of being berated by an uninspiring tutor, I embraced my inner tearaway and started to skip class, instead indulging in soul-searching girl talk sessions with my less than enthusiastic violinist counterpart. Thus, my brief stint as a pianist ended, although the friendship forged in musical failure still runs strong and deep.
Despite my lack of personal success in music, the passion only grew stronger. Media by which music could be acquired became more accessible and diverse and I took advantage of them all. Luckily for me, music, no matter how aggressive or profane, was never taboo in my family. When, as a teenager, I went to live with my grandparents, they surprised me with their progressive views. There were no restrictions on what I chose to listen to, I was always allowed to go watch bands, and musician acquaintances, regardless of age or gender, were always welcome in our home.
Eventually one such acquaintance , a brilliant guitarist, became a close friend. We spent hours round each others’ houses listening to records, and discussed our mutual reverence for Savatage over glasses of mosambi juice. Unlike my other friends who wanted to go out drinking, he was more interested in coming over for coffee, and didn’t care if I was still in my pyjamas and pigtails. For the first time ever, I fell in love – it was like we communicated in a different language, no cheesy ‘I love you’s, hand-holding or candlelit dinners. Instead, we exchanged tapes, burned each other CDs, emailed each other links to songs and videos. And once such message signposted me to the song ‘Eye to Eye’ – my first taste of Fates Warning.
Once I had listened to it, and then Parallels about a hundred times, I threw myself into the rest of their discography. It seemed like each album was completely different from the other, and yet I loved them all. I had never encountered music that was difficult to listen to before – and I adored it. I loved that you had to concentrate to understand this beautiful cacophony, discordant and harmonious all at once. I loved the feeling of being caught out as I tried to drum out the rhythm on the dining table. I loved that I couldn’t sing along to it, it was just too hard.
The John Arch albums certainly stood out – particularly the epics ‘The Spectre Within’, and ‘Awaken the Guardian’. I just couldn’t get how this music was written – at times it seemed like the vocal melody was a completely different song to the one it was being played over, and still, it worked perfectly. I became obsessed with ‘Awaken the Guardian’, the more I listened, the more I became immersed in it I became. I tried to follow the line of every instrument, the timing, the vocal, the lyrics, until, through sheer memory, I could listen to the entire album in my head without having it playing. The term ‘progressive metal’ is thrown around a lot these days, but this really was progressive – I honestly can’t think of any band that was creating music like this at the time.
Through every significant event in my life, every strife, every struggle, and every celebration, sometimes even in moments of quiet reflection, I have reached for this record. I have cherished the escapism, plunging into an occult world of witchlore from those first distant chords of The Sorceress. In times of pain and solitude, I have shed bitter tears to Guardian. I have felt my heart plummet into my stomach at the words ‘Time, time, time, an imaginary line’, and felt the desolation of the desert in Exodus – ‘Oh guardian, predestination calls/ Silent wind, I felt what you said….’.
How typically me, that this ended up being more about myself than the record. When I started writing this note, I had hoped it would express just how much this album has meant to me over the years, and I’m not entirely sure that I have achieved that. At the end of it, however, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude to my parents and grandparents, who, even when I was at my worst, always encouraged me to be me. And somehow I think that is just as fitting.