Fates Warning’s Guardian aka Making Grown Men Cry


I will wish upon a star, I believe in you
And if my will has strayed afar
I remembered you, will you remember me?
I’m the one you sentenced

Penance unabsolved
Answer me, save my will

For music to bring emotion boiling up to the surface because it references a specific time in one’s life is common. But often this has more to do with nostalgia and the fondness of recollecting the past in which that piece of music was once heard, than with any inherent quality in the music itself. Memories of friends and revelry mix with particular events that may have occurred in that pocket of time, adding to the overall enjoyment of the music, intensely subjective as it might be.

A little less common is recognizing the feeling evident in the artist’s rendition of his material, an aspect that only the most skillful musicians are capable of invoking at will, and one that only the most empathetic producers are able to identify, trap, reproduce if need be, and then record in the studio. As listeners, we understand what the music is trying to convey but there remains a partition, transparent though it may be, between performer and audience. We marvel at what we’re witnessing, we applaud the artist for his tremendous control over his craft, but the two participants in this mutual process still stand on opposite sides of the glass, unable to touch. The artist’s feeling is his and his alone, and try as we may, we can never be a part of it.

What is truly rare, however, and what I believe has been the second of two unspoken, perhaps unconscious objectives of every musician through time, the first obviously being that of converting an idea into sound, is for this dance of performer and audience to join forces in harmony, shattering the glass that separates them, and creating a single impression in both. This is a special phenomenon, more so when no tangible reason can be attached to the upswell of emotion in the listener, when he has no personal incentive to relate to the music, when there are in fact no personal associations to be made with the music. And yet there he sits with a lump in his throat and quite possibly a tear or two sliding down the corner of his eye, feeling entirely at loss over why this is so, yet aware of the awesome power of the music speaking to him.

Redoubtable sources have spoken over time of Fates Warning’s ‘Guardian’ in these same strange terms. What is it about this mystical song from the band’s epic Awaken The Guardian that can reduce grown men to bawling babes, not in a crass and maudlin way but through an indefinable surge in inner sensation?

Is it the gentle minstrel-like melody at the beginning that sets the melodic theme for the entire song? Is it the pensive arpeggios after the lush, introductory solo, so laden with atmosphere and serving as backdrop for John Arch’s otherworldly lyrics? Is it John Arch’s utterly unique voice and aura itself, weaving in and out of the song like a siren’s, as a very real and distinct instrument? Is it his eerie penchant for lyrical and musical punctuation at just the right moment that registers these words on a level different from any other metal song?

Who can possibly hold the answers to these questions? The prosaic explanation would be a band at the height of their creative powers, intrepid enough to venture into territories that most others wouldn’t dare of visualizing, let alone realizing with such clarity. But that doesn’t nearly begin to tell the whole story. ‘Guardian’ stands outside of time in a firmament of its own making, utterly without pretense or guile. It is quite possibly the single most magical moment in all metal, at least to these ears, unrivaled in the thirty years since its release, and still capable of reaching across all that time and touching the soul with its wispy fingers.

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