Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Guardian - Fire & Love
   
Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock Produced By: John & Dino Elefante
Record Label: Pakaderm / Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1990 / 2017 Artist Website:
Tracks: 11 Rating: 95%
Running Time: 50:10

Guardian - Fire & Love

The phrase ‘if all the stars align’ refers to an event in which ‘everything falls into place perfectly so your ideal outcome becomes reality’ or more specifically, ‘when something happens exactly as it was planned or exactly as you wanted it to go’.  Within hard music circles, it would be the equivalent of your favorite band recording an album that goes on to become a classic that fans and critics alike rank among the best regardless of genre or era.

First such album that comes to mind is Bride’s 1992 magnum opus Snakes In The Playground, as it is widely revered as the type of career defining work in which a band is most often identified but also struggles to duplicate.  Bride, for instance, might have recorded several accomplished albums in follow up that while highly regarded, do not quite reach the same heights as Snakes…  I also consider Ken Tamplin’s 1993 self-titled ‘green’ solo album of near equal quality, although (in my opinion) any subsequent solo offering he released failed to live up to similar expectations.  Veni Domine has put out its share of choice albums as well, but none I value to the same extent as 1994 sophomore effort Material Sanctuary, a work that rates with my favorite albums of all time.

Another example of an album in which ‘all the stars align’ - again, the type deemed as career defining and that fans come to identify a band - is Guardian 1990 Pakaderm Records sophomore release Fire & Love.  The album came out on the heals of a period of transition for Guardian, which found newcomer Jamie Rowe supplanting founding member and vocalist Paul Cawley, who departed the group following the release of the melodic metal to its Oz Fox produced 1989 Enigma Records debut First Watch.  Whereas Cawley brought a smooth and clean classic tenor vocal style, Rowe delivers big doses of heart and soul with a middle register presence rooted in the bluesy aesthetic.

True to form, Rowe, whom gained initial renown (as J.R. Rowe) for fronting the first two Tempest albums, A Coming Storm (1987) and Eye Of The Storm (1988), helps take Guardian in a melodic hard rock direction that in comparison to First Watch plays up the heavier rocking guitar edge and ample amounts of seventies based swagger.  Also unlike First Watch, which featured some slight production misgivings, Fire & Love showcases the type of picture perfect production (courtesy of John and Dino Elefante) in which I struggle to find fault.  Improving upon an already very good product is the summer of 2017 Retroactive re-issue to Fire & Love, which has been digitally re-mastered and made available on CD and vinyl (200 yellow vinyl copies and 300 black vinyl).  Included on the CD version is a bonus track entitled “Take Up Your Cross” that previously appeared on the Pakaderm Records CD sampler Portrait Of A Spirit.

Songwriting, of course, also helps take things to the next level from how Fire & Love features ten equally good songs characterized by ‘big guitars, big hooks and (and even bigger) choruses’ (as taken from the groups press material).  Nowhere does Guardian better exemplify this than on opening cut “Power Of Love”, a classic melodic hard rocker in which a ton of groove laden bass (courtesy of David Bach) and gritty guitar riffs (credit Tony Palacios) touch upon equal parts commercial and driving.  Great, great song in which the group recorded a music video (I am uncertain if it ever aired on MTV).

“Send A Message” maintains the commercial leanings but in the more up-tempo package.  Exuding buoyant energy front to back, the song paints the backdrop with organ - hence, the Guardian newfound seventies influences - while not backing from the groups focused guitar penchant.  Palacios literally melts the fret board with one of his trademark inspired guitar solos.

“Time Stands Still” tempers impetus with its airy mid-paced AOR qualities.  Guitars might settle somewhat in the backend while keyboards play the more forthright role, but quality does not diminish either as the same emphasis on the hook driven asserts itself.  Standing out every bit much are the groups graceful backing vocals not to mention Rowe, whose gravelly delivery shines within a lighter musical framework.

Guardian can do the ballad thing as well as anyone and such is the case with “Forever And A Day”.  This one slows impetus even further, as keyboards play a more prominent role as does acoustic guitar (but not to a fault either way), while the eloquent lead guitar enhance the stirring atmosphere at hand.  Of note is how the pronounced low-end makes “Forever And A Day” come across heavier than it actually is, an effect this reviewer finds quite flattering.

Following two vey good cuts on the tempered side, album returns to upbeat hard rock territory on “Takin’ On The World”.  This one kicks in to full on momentum from the get go, with a ton of heartfelt groove and dogged guitars (again, noting the Bach and Palacios partnership) allowing for a heavier edge but not without the silky Guardian backing vocals providing a smoother touch.  Upshot is a boogie metal flair that hints of prime Stryper.

Albums scintillating title track ensues and further play up the melodic hard rock qualities, albeit in not quite the same effervescent framework.  The group’s penchant for catchy hooks and decisive energy, nonetheless, remains unchallenged, as does its inherent sense of the radio friendly.  Which leads to the question at hand: where was FM radio back in the day?  Perhaps playing too much ‘hair metal’, while criminally overlooking an album in Fire & Love chock full of choice material deserving airplay.  You could write an entire book about the subject, but if Stryper can gain commercial acceptance then why cannot Guardian and other contemporaries of the time?

“Turnaround” returns things to an up-tempo form.  By far the albums heaviest track - turn up the volume to maximum with the bass to match! - “Turnaround” cements guitars to the front of the mix, while instrumentally pulling out all the stops with a riveting faster to slower and bluesy lead guitar run.  The big background vocal driven refrain proves near mesmerizing in heightening energy levels further.

Slowing things to a mid-paced romp is “Time And Time Again”, a staunchly unflinching plodder with a thickly weighted low end and every bit the impassioned demeanor.  Bottom heavy and melancholy but accessible all the same, the song drips with emotion in switching between its elevated first chorus and darker and more resonant second.  In the end, what we have is as fine a deep cut you will find that helps make a great album even better.

Speaking of which, “The Rain” represents this reviewer’s choice track as the groups digs deep to take the bluesy aspects to the next level.  A full and satisfying five minutes, the song opens slow and moody to laid-back slide guitars only to abruptly kick in to the unyielding momentum that powers it through its impenetrable verses and refrain of an equally emphatic quality.  Best part might be the plodding passage that leads to the instrumental break to feature another blues drenched lead guitar run.

Final ballad “Never Say Goodbye” closes the album.  As with everything here, Guardian performs it with a ton of class as acoustic guitar and hints of slide guitar convey the song its lush distance.  Steel guitar carries the instrumental moments.

“Take Up Your Cross” is neither a muddy demo or second rate bonus track.  Rather, it is an album worthy blues based worship rocker upheld acoustically with ample does of harmonica and clasping hands.

Production might have been quite good to begin with, but the Retroactive re-mastering takes things to the next level.  As is often the case with re-releases to older albums, volume levels increase to align with that of modern records with the upshot that much more detail standing out in the background.  Organ now comes across better defined on “Send A Message”, while same applies for acoustic guitar (on the two ballads) and bass (entire album).  Guitars deliver added punch in terms of the foreground.   

Packaging improves with the Retroactive re-issue as well.  While the original Pakaderm release featured a multi page inner sleeve with lyrics printed in a fine font over a white background, the Retroactive version is more eye-catching with lyrics in an easier to read font over a black background and with song titles in a green front for contrast.  Also included is a cool concert photo of Rowe and Palacios beside the original Guardian logo as it appeared on First Watch.

In an interview back in the day, Guardian noted (obviously referencing the pressure it faced while on mainstream label Enigma) in regards to the Fire & Love lyrics that ‘there was no watering down anything for commercial acceptance’.  Hence, the upfront prose on “Send A Message” -

Tear down the walls around me
The time has come to make a stand;
Open up my heart to You, Lord;
I want to live for You;
Do anything You want me to; gonna lay it on the line

You feel the war around you,
You start to run and hide because you
don't know what to do.
You've got no need to worry about the fire and fury;
The Blood of Christ will cover you

- and “Forever And A Day”:

I thank you for the love You bring me each and every day
After all the things You've done for me,
There's only one thing I can say.

Forever and a day
You, know my heart will always stay, cause I believe in You
No matter what they say
Forever and a day, I believe in You

Other tracks encourage the believer in the faith, including “Power Of Love”-

Cause He came down from His throne
And sang a song of love to me
With just a touch His power set me free, I'm free

Every night I go to sleep I pray the
Lord my soul to keep
He leads me thru the darkest night
Gonna take me to the morning light

- and “The Rain”:

Livin' on faith, never say never;
Standing tall when the rain comes down
Gotta make it thru the stormy weather
Standing tall when the rain comes down

I'm so glad what He's done for me;
Took away my blues so easily.
Storms are gonna come and you
Know it's a fact; but the power of
The Lord is gonna make you stand

Similar to its career defining albums of its noted contemporaries, Guardian never reached the same heights as on Fire & Love.  Follow up release Miracle Mile from 1993 was good but also strayed too far in an acoustic direction for my taste, which (unlike Fire & Love) resulted in a couple skip buttons.  The group also lost me on Swing, Swang, Swung (1994), Buzz (1995) and Bottle Rocket (1997) with their at times acoustic and others modern to alternative leanings.  2014 comeback album Almost Home was better ‘as a musical extension of the groups Swing, Swang, Swung to Bottle Rocket period’ (referencing my 70% review), but I also felt Guardian could have stretch more from an artistic standpoint.  This brings us back to Fire & Love, one of the finest examples of melodic hard rock and AOR I have heard (only other albums of such style from the era I rate alongside it is Novella masterpiece One Big Sky and the Fear Not self-titled debut).  If you missed Fire & Love back in the day then make the Retroactive re-issue a priority purchase while the same applies if you own a copy of the original to benefit from the improved re-mastering.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Power Of Love” (4:33), “Send A Message” (4:00), “Time Stands Still” (4:27), “Forever And A Day” (5:11), “Takin’ On The World” (3:53), “Fire And Love” (3:25), “Turnaround” (4:18), “Time And Time Again” (4:52), “The Rain” (5:32), “Never Say Goodbye” (5:08), “Take Up Your Cross” (4:53)

Musicians
Jamie Rowe - Lead Vocals
Tony Palacios - Guitars
David Bach - Bass
Karl Ney - Drums

 

Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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