Fossilized sci-fi and fantasy nerds such as yours truly who got into metal in the early-to-mid 80s forged a peerless bond with the unique sounds put out by Fates Warning. Night On Bröcken, The Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian spoke to the Xanth-loving, plenty-sided dice-toting, puffy hightop-sporting metal junkies in a way that few others managed to match. In more ways than one, they were metal’s answer to the oddness of Yes: strange architecture, strange vocals and strange album covers that told strange tales to strange people in a swirlingly epic manner that shuttled listeners to exotic lands. And right from the onset, Victor Arduini was there to help give the band’s earliest works (up to and including The Spectre Within) that strong NWOBHM-influence. He left Fates Warning in 1986, however, just before the release of Awaken the Guardian, and he didn’t attach his name to another metal work until 2013’s still fairly uncharted Freedom’s Reign. Until now.
Arduini/Balich: perhaps not as instantly recognizable as Arch/Matheos when it comes to “superduos” involving Fates Warning, but there is an immediate warmth and familiarity delivered with Dawn of Ages, thanks to the infusion of those seminal early works involving Arduini into the overall blueprint. While the Arch/Matheos endeavor that produced the excellent Sympathetic Resonance in 2011 recalled classic Fates Warning mostly by re-introducing one of metal’s most unique and recognizable voices, it was still a highly modern, progressive-minded record in a very “Matheos” kind of way. On the contrary, Dawn of Ages develops a familiar Fates Warning detail that’s less afraid to look back in order to move forward, with the added bonus of tacking a completely different but equally under-appreciated voice to the game plan. Brian “Butch” Balich has lent his impassioned vocals to some of metal/doom’s more successful (often unsung) moments, most notably in the service of Penance and alongside the traditional metal gallop of Argus. His capacity to shake the roof with a fiercely glowing, raspy low tenor that recalls the Dio-minded singers of our day is a perfect match for the surprisingly doomy strut of these 63 minutes (80 minutes if you count the three bonus cover tunes included only on the vinyl version).
Oh, yes, doom…
The list of influences might be as long as Yao Ming’s arm, because these two have been around long enough to obsess about music for the better part of the last 30+ years, but the overall A/B approach emphasizes a classic doom framework that screams Sabbath through a number of that band’s deviations. Sometimes it’s directly in your face, like the Vol. 4 riff that drops at the onset of “Into Exile.” But mostly, it’s a comprehensive immersion that feels as though, if given the opportunity, the master himself would smile and pick up his SG to run through a stack of riffs from these songs. The reverential Sabbath appreciation is tempered, however, thanks to the progressive edge of Arduini’s earliest project that give significant stretches throughout the record a nod to more modern doom akin to Memory Driven – that dark, smooth and pillowy feeling that could easily draw in fans of Black Gives Way to Blue-era AiC. And it’s all tied together magnificently beneath a wealth of glassy, lifting leads very reminiscent of those early Fates days.
There’s clearly enough minutes on this debut for a number of other influences outside of Sabbath to work their way into the equation as well. Intentional or not, the absolutely classic “Peaceville three” sorrow-stricken melody at the heart of “The Wraith” is magnificent, and even Victor Griffin would likely agree that the principal riff behind “Forever Fade” is one of the heaviest since “All Your Sins.” Plus, the stretched 17.5 minutes of “Beyond the Barricade” (very gradually) opens up to a tremendous mid-70s hard progressive rock smoker that lifts to the sky on the back of a scorching lead around the 10-minute mark before culminating with Balich’s highly inspired assertion of “I will RISE / I will CROSS / into light!” And in classic doom tradition, the surprisingly brief instrumental “The Gates of Acheron” follows the killing blow by closing the album on a perfectly epic and sombre note.
As mentioned, vinyl buyers get the added bonus of three cover songs: Uriah Heep’s “Sunrise,” Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” and a tremendously satisfying capper, “After All (The Dead),” from the excessively under-appreciated Sabbath gem, Dehumanizer. Worth the extra effort to pick up the 2xLP version? Depends on how much you love shrewdly selected cover tunes. I will say the packaging (including the beautiful cover artwork, courtesy of Michael Cowell) looks fantastic, and the hour and twenty minutes is certainly worthy of a double LP treatment.
Something that time and age eventually reveal is the fact that life – while, yes, ultimately (and hopefully) grand – is largely immersed in dusk and gloom and mottled with specific points of light. Finding vigorous ways to grab hold of the glowing moments and truly appreciate them is the stuff that makes the whole journey worthwhile. That’s actually Dawn of Ages greatest strength: the stark juxtaposition of darkness and light – the solemn stretches of doom being lifted by radiant leads and rousing, beautiful choruses really delivers. Like most anything, however, it ain’t perfect, and expecting today’s metal fan to absorb not just one “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” but FOUR is definitely a daunting task. It’s a record that doesn’t just ask for patience, it demands it. But the rewards are unmistakable. Whether or not it’s destined to become a classic, only time will rightly tell. For me, and hopefully for a number of you, it marks one of those moments in metal where you feel quite thankful that two people with a similar vision have come together and figured out how to nail a mutual concept home and get it into our ears. Veteran dogs doing old tricks so well that they feel like new tricks that all dogs can and should enjoy; I love it when a plan comes together.