Review Summary: An outstanding release by a very underrated band.
First and foremost, I've been as big of a Karnivool fan as I can be with my limitations of living in the United States. "Themata" was - and still is - absolute gold and had waited for the release of "Sound Awake" with bated breath. The way I heard and felt "Themata" is what I was initially looking for in "Sound Awake." When I picked up this album, the first thing I noticed was that it was much different than "Themata" and if I'm being honest, I was a bit disappointed... but that didn't last long. Upon just the second listen and acceptance that this album is an evolution of the band, I absolutely loved it. There are some elements on this album that will inevitably be compared to Tool, e.g. some of the percussive passages (the beginning of the song, "Deadman"), the bass tone on the higher registers with the usage of delay (0:56 in the song, "New Day"), and the overall groove of select passages throughout the album. This, however, is not a detriment, in my humble opinion and the instances are few and far between. Likewise, while the aforementioned may be a noted comparison between the two bands, the note choice, however, is not, and that's what really sets any comparisons apart.
These guys blend elements of rock, metal, progressive, alternative, and psychedelic rock in ways I've never heard before. They employ ambitious musicianship to create such moods and ambiance that you can't help being sucked into this album like it was a black hole. A brief sampling of a song or two is not enough to truly experience Karnivool's Sound Awake. This is more than a simple collection of 11 songs, it is a genuine listening experience, a journey into sound. The first track, 'Simple Boy', fools you with a few quiet notes of a synthesizer before giving way to a drum roll and heavy bass guitar riff. Just when you think the bass overtones are about to cause your speakers to implode, contrast is brought in with melodic lead guitar and vocals. Karnivool's vocalist, Ian Kenny, brings the final, perfect ingredient to the musical formula, tugging your mind along the path of their progressive rock music.
"Sound Awake" is an appropriate title. Open to interpretation, but accurately capturing the crux of this album however you read it. This band takes full advantage of a huge spectrum of sound through their music. Progressive rock is the backbone, the primary element consistent in each track. The sound of the the music can range from heavy riffs, to smooth melodies, but always building layer upon layer of sound. The result is an epic masterpiece of heavy, progressive rock. Each successive track continues to introduce new combinations of their ambitiously conceived sound. Ian Kenny really shines on this album. There is MUCH more vocal work on this album than on "Themata." He is as melodic as ever, but there are some really soaring and beautiful harmonies present throughout the album. One thing I love about his singing is that what he says is crystal-clear. As far as the lyrical content goes, there isn't much that's cryptic. He makes his political and religious views clear (which I absolutely agree with, so I'm REALLY connecting with what he's saying), as well as speaks to the human element by poetically positing questions and making lyrical observations of the facets of life we're all plagued with in our everyday lives.
Sound Awake lacks the riffs and hooks of Themata but expands on groove and melody and brings Karnivool's songwriting skills to the fore. This album is a slow burner that might take a few listens to get inside you but it will be worth it. The songs are epic and dark and the focus is on creating a mood that builds. The addition of many percussive elements is definitely enhancing these songs. Comparisons to Tool are inevitable but these guys are no clones. I can't deny that Themata's riffs and song structures are intense but Sound Awake is a different and equally engrossing experience from Karnivool. As a musician myself, I think each part of this band makes an important part of the overall sound and atmosphere that IS Karnivool but on this album Ian's voice, harmonies, lyrics, effect choices and emotion come shining through as never before. "Thermata" was more a focus on the band and ALL that they can do but this one is Ian's canvas to paint his beautiful soundscapes. I absolutely love "Sound Awake" because of the change and atmosphere that they have created for Ian since the last release. It Is a JOURNEY. This is not an album to skip through. Once I hear the first note of "Simple Boy" I know that I will be listening until the end of the last note on the album.
The album has left me very excited for the future of this band. I have been anxiously awaiting for a new album that will hopefully be released this year.