Review Summary: From the xylophone tinkering that opens "Simple Boy" to the final charging drumbeat of "Change", Sound Awake is a full, pleasing album that can make anyone smile from the mainstream hip-hop lover to the hardcore hipster.
Karnivool started off as almost a nu-metal band on their 2005 album Themata-which was worthy another 5 rating itself. The key to this band's success (not commercially, but critically) is because to two essential components to their music. 1. The rhythm section is out of this world. Drummer Steve Judd and the bassist whose name escapes me work great together on tracks such as "Goliath" or "Umbra" not to mention Judd's stunning opening on "The Caudal Lure" or the awesome bassline on "Set Fire To The Hive". One of the funnier moments on this album comes when Steve Judd samples the drum beat of Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" during the opening track, "Simple Boy". You'd expect this to suck majorly, but it actually fits pretty well. Guitarist Drew Goddard carries some of the weaker tracks with his signature riffing and use of distortion ("All i Know", "Illumine", "Deadman").
The second and more impressive of the two is the band's ability to mesh so many different types of music together. Themata and Sound Awake are nearly polar opposites-which would lead you to believe that one is a colossal failure while the other is amazing. Wrong, they have nearly the exact same rating on Sputnik (this album has a 4.1, and Themata has a solid 4). The most notable example of this is the short interlude "The Medicine Wears Off" which starts off as a slow, moving ballad propelled by vocalist Ian Kenny's tremendous tenor sound and a lulling lead and bass line. About a minute in, Steve Judd explodes the track into a hard-rock anthem for about 30 seconds before some ambiance leads into "The Caudal Lure". Pure bliss.
Ian Kenny is one of my favorite vocalists, in a close race with Maynard James Keenan, Serj Tankian and Geddy Lee. He has the ability to make any section sound epic, such as the bridge to "Goliath" or his crowning achievement so far, his vocal part on "New Day". It's 8 minutes long, but it's easily the best track on here. The song switches tempos in a perfect transition with no one breaking a sweat, as Kenny sings in his near-perfect high pitch tone with nearly no instrumental breaks. Goddard has some amazing dynamic range, as he can make any riff at any volume sound flawless. Some guitarists can only rely on their amps and pedals and only play at full volume *coughCobaincough*. However, listen to the openings of "Umbra" and "Goliath". They highly contrast one another, "Umbra" being almost a power ballad and "Goliath" being a heavy metal head-banger. However, each opening riff sounds like complete perfection. And I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. The final 2 extended tracks, "Deadman" and "Change" are so unbelievable I can't even put them into words. Deadman is the better of the two, but Change reminds me a lot of classic George Harrison Indian-influenced Beatles tracks-if you combined them with Led Zeppelin or Porcupine Tree.
There are really only 2 tracks that aren't incredible on this album, and it's because they're too simple (and Simple Boy is not one of them). These tracks are "illumine" and "Set Fire to the Hive". They both seems like regular heavy metal tracks-too much distorted guitars, inaudible bass, basic drum beats and some of Kenny's more annoying vocals. They're good-they just don't measure up with the rest of the album.
Overall Sound Awake was in my opinion the best album of 2009 and one of the best of the decade, and I highly recommend you check it out as well as Themata, their debut.
The Caudal Lure
Set Fire To The Hive