|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Oz Fox|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1989/2009||Artist Website: Guardian|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 56:08|
Guardian can trace its history to 1984 when bassist David Bach answered a musicians ad placed in a Los Angeles area newspaper by vocalist Paul Cawley. The two proceeded to form the earliest incarnation of Guardian known as Fusion in which its members dressed in futuristic style body armor and played an innovative form of “space metal”. A six song demo, Rock In Victory, was soon recorded that made its way into the hands of Wes Hein of Enigma Records, who showed up at the bands studio and offered them a contract on the spot. Upon signing with Enigma the band changed its name to Gardian, intentionally omitting the “U” to keep the spelling at seven letters in line with the Stryper numerology at the time.
Solidifying its line up upon recruiting guitarist Tony Palacios in the fall of 1986, Gardian recorded a second demo, Voyager, in 1987 in addition to placing the tracks “Marching On” and “Spiritual Warfare” on the California Metal compilation. 1988 found the band shedding its body armor – and departing from the “space metal warriors” image in the process - while correctly changing its name to Guardian. Work began later the same year on Guardian’s Oz Fox (Stryper) produced full length Enigma debut First Watch.
First Watch was released in June of 1989 only to go out of print and became a hard to find collectors item. Retroactive Records later re-mastered and re-issued First Watch in the fall of 2009 as a “20th Anniversary Edition” with revised album artwork and “Marching On” and “Spiritual Warfare” from the California Metal compilation as bonus tracks.
Guardian brings an eighties influenced brand of melodic metal in which catchy hooks and polished Stryper-like backing vocals prevail. The band is at its best on “I’ll Never Leave You” and “Mystery Man”, two commercial metal pieces with immediate accessibility, along with the unrelenting “Saints Battalion” and mega-melodic “World Without Love”. The bluesy “The Good Life” and up-tempo party rocker “One Of A Kind” stand in contrast to the customary ballad “Miracle”. Rounding things out are a pair of metal anthems, “Kingdom Of Rock” and “Rock In Victory”, and a “space metal” piece in “Hyperdrive”.
Vocalist Paul Cawley might not bring the range and talent of Les Carlson (Bloodgood) or Michael Sweet (Stryper) but exhibits a slew of charisma with his sometimes even and at others times gritty mid-octave vocal style. Perfectly complementing the bands sound, he exhibits the full range to his voice on “World Without Love” while adding some low key muscle to “Miracle” and “The Good Life”.
Cawley also fills in on rhythm guitar and the talented Tony Palacios lead guitar. Quite the underrated musician, Palacios decorates the album with his scintillating lead work, shining on “Saints Battalion”, “Marching On” and “Mystery Man” with his fiery touch. The guitar harmonies he adds to “Rock In Victory” are nothing less than brilliant while the bluesy elements to “The Good Life” reflect the diversity of his playing.
The re-mastering job, courtesy of J. Powell at Steinhaus, allows for the brighter and cleaner production. Not that the original sounded bad, but the difference is night and day with a low end coming across more pronounced and guitars that deliver added bite.
"I'll Never Leave You" opens the album to a huge commercial hook. With its abundant backing vocals and infectious delivery, the song had the potential to dominate FM radio if given the right push back in the day. “I’ll Never Leave You” is a song of God’s faithfulness:
My hand is out
I say your name
When we're together
You won't be the same
You hear me calling
You know right away
I'll say it again now to ya
I’ll never leave you…
“Mystery Man” also highlights elements of the commercial. Yes, the same radio friendly feel is there - “the whoa-oh -whoah-oh mystery man” chorus is executed to perfection – but this one brings more of a bottom heavy feel and the faster tempo.
The mid-paced “Living For The Promise” is the only number here I struggle with. While far from bad, I find it to be somewhat of a let down, particularly in light of the brilliance of the two preceding it. The hook and energy of the albums better material is not there for me.
Every eighties melodic metal album requires at least one ballad and such is what we have in “Miracle”. A slow and moody piece, the song moves at a near crawl for its verses only to pick up the pace upon acquiring its emotionally charged chorus. On a side note: “Miracle” was known as “Miracle Of The Galaxy” during the groups “space metal warrior” days. “Miracle” emphasizes Gods love:
You’re the miracle
You’ll always be
He’s life eternally
So look into space
Open your heart and feel
As deep as it's wide
The love of Christ is real
“Saint’s Battalion” finds Guardian in top form. This one ranks with the albums heaviest, joining a crunch laden guitar sound and spacey keyboards with quite the active low end. Resounding backing vocals drive its heavy duty chorus. The focus here is on being in the “saints battalion” with Christ as your commanding officer:
Standing with millions ever strong
We will forever carry on
Forces united for a cause
Knowing someday that He will come
So come with us
And you'll believe
Jesus power is supreme
Saints - battalion
Up-tempo, driven and brimming with energy, “Kingdom Of Rock” comes across as the quintessential metal anthem. Palacios puts on quite the clinic throughout, decorating things with his knife edged riffing and equally persuasive soloing abilities.
“The Good Life” draws upon a heavy blues influence. The song claws its way at a gritty mid-paced clip its distance, polished backing vocals sustaining its brazen chorus while Cawley’s gutsy vocal delivery adds to the scratchy scene. The emptiness of life in the fast lane is the subject dealt with:
Something inside of me
Keeps crying out
But I don’t wanna hear another word
I live for now
This party's burning out
I'm coming down
I feel like I'm locked up in a cage
No one's around
An early Van Halen “California party rock” direction is taken on “One Of A Kind”. Bordering on the mesmerizing with its non-stop hook appeal, the song shines as a result of its upbeat energy and highlighting traces of keyboards. The positive feel exuded adds the perfect touch.
“World Without Love” represents classic Guardian. The song delivers all the essential elements: melodic based proclivity, searing lead work in abundance and a riff driven melding of the animated and auspicious. This one sounds as if it were meant to be played live. "World Without Love" touches upon both social issues and answers to the problems at hand:
Another child is gone
The slaughter of the innocent goes on
We seek illicit passions
How many more fall to addictions
Then glowing ever bright
Breaking through the night
The Almighty gives us life
“Rock In Victory” ranks with the finest of its era. A first rate Christian metal anthem, the song finds Palacios going nuts with his tight as they get riffs and melodies while the chorus, for a lack of better words, is over the top in capacity: “Rock in victory - no way you can lose. Rock in victory - only you can choose”. It does not get much better.
“Hyperdrive” and “Marching On” were included as bonus tracks on the Enigma CD version (neither appeared on the vinyl or cassette releases).
“Hyperdrive”, as its name implies, has a spacey feel to it as a result of the ethereal keyboards occasionally decorating the backdrop. Otherwise, we have a quality “space metal” piece bringing the needed amount of punch in addition to a lead guitar duel between Oz Fox and Palacios at the end, with Oz getting the better of the deal.
The First Watch version of “Marching On” moves at the heavier but slower pace in comparison to its California Metal counterpart. The chorus is great (very catchy) and the lead work bordering on the neo-classical. Cawley adds some low key grit to his delivery as well. “Marching On” talks about perseverance:
A white hot knight
A shining star
His freedom fights
His battle scars
Quick sight wise might
Defeat the enemy
Life flows through the Prince of Peace
Marching on - on through all the years
Marching on - through the pain and tears
Hold the Truth up high
Marching on - the crown of life our prize
“Spiritual Warfare”, the first of the two California Metal tracks, also reflects a “space metal” influence. More ethereal keyboards can be found while the overall milieu borders on the “stately” if not “sublime”. Shouted backing vocals step forward to sustain its chorus.
If I were to invite a comparison I like the California Metal version of “Marching On” better. No, it is not as polished (or heavy) but the resulting rawer feel (and faster tempo) are more than enough for it to come out ahead in my estimation.
The best way to sum up would be to state I have always loved the songs on First Watch. There is so much good material here – not to mention quality musicianship – that this makes for an essential purchase, particularly when factoring in the re-mastering and California Metal bonus tracks.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "I’ll Never Leave You" (4:31), "Mystery Man" (4:07), "Livin’ For The Promise" (4:08), "Miracle" (4:55), "Saints Battalion" (3:47), "Kingdom Of Rock" (3:25), "The Good Life" (4:41), "One Of A Kind" (3:33), "World Without Love" (3:55), "Rock In Victory" (3:49), "Hyperdrive" (4:17), "Marching On" (3:55)
Paul Cawley – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Tony Palacios – Lead Guitars
David Bach – Bass
Rikk Hart – Drums
Oz Fox - Guitars
Also Reviewed: Various Artists - California Metal
Arnold, Christy and Randy Rocker. "Guardian Interview." Take A Stand (June 1989): 1-2.
Mutillo, Dave. "First Watch review." White Throne 6 (1990): 17.
Van Pelt, Doug. "Looking At Guardian's Future." Heaven's Metal 20 (1989): 6-8.
"Guardian Biography." Voyager & Fusion. M8 Records (2001).
"White Metal News." White Throne 4 (1989): 4.