Review Summary: Not without its moments that make it worth a listen, but overall a step down for the band. Again.
P.O.D. has had a pretty up and down career. After their triple platinum hit in Satellite, the guitarist Marcos Curiel left and the album that followed was pretty bad. Testify was a pretty good bounce-back album, while When Angels & Serpents Dance took another step down despite still being listenable. Murdered Love was the big bounce-back album that meshed Satellite and Testify together very well. But now there's a new album, and considering the pattern we've seen lately, perhaps it was inevitable that this would be another step down to a degree.
For this album, P.O.D. decided to try and do a concept album, complete with moments of dialogue in between songs. Unfortunately, the thing pretty much falls flat in their faces as the story itself is somewhat unclear. What they're trying to do is more obvious (show a guy finding redemption in life), but the path there is muddled. During several tracks, it seems as if the "character" has issues with varying degrees of paranoia (although it almost seems legit in the story) and apparent drug use. Okay, fine--but then there are a couple tracks that almost seem to have no place in the story at all (more on that later). And then the closing title track has an opening dialogue sequence that has seemingly no connection with the rest of the story. Ultimately, I found it easier to just screw the concept story and just focus on the songs themselves.
Let's start off by noting that "This Goes Out to You" is not a very good song and a horrible lead single. It's basically a dedication track with a generic riff and a cheesy chorus ("Hey! You! This goes out to you! For all the things that you do!"). Also of note is that it has no place in the story at all, thus making one wonder why it was on the final track list in the first place and not a stand-alone single or a deluxe edition track. Fortunately, this is mostly as bad as it gets--save for "Want It All," which tries to experiment around with some odd horns and almost Christmas-y sounds and ends up being one of their worst songs in a while.
As for the rest of the songs, there's a few standouts as well as a few middle-ground songs. The album opener "Am I Awake" is definitely somewhere in the middle, as it has a good guitar riff but a mediocre chorus. The best part of it, oddly, is the opening myriad of sound bytes during the first 75 seconds. There's two more songs that have plenty of meat on the guitar front in "Somebody's Trying to Kill Me" and "Get Down" (which I also struggle to see where it fits in the "story") but it seems as if that's all they focused on for those two songs was the guitar, and forgot to include overall catchiness or great rhythm. They're decent songs and have better choruses than "Am I Awake," but they're not highlights.
Two of the three better hard rock songs that are actually heavy punk songs--"Speed Demon" and "Revolucion." They are both quite enjoyable, but the latter is probably the better of the two due in part to guest vocals from Lou Koller of Sick Of It All and a nice reggae interlude which helps shake things up a little bit. "Rise of NWO" is also a big highlight due to its strong chorus vocals and it actually being quite catchy.
The highlight of the album, by far, is "Criminal Conversations." Nothing else on the album even comes close (except *maybe* "Rise of NWO"). Featuring Maria Brink from In This Moment, this song takes a slower pace with an ethereal feel. Sandoval's and Brink's vocals are combined to near perfection, and the song picks up in pace near the end for a big finish. If you do nothing else, at least buy this song by itself.
P.O.D., once again, tries to do something a little different. Give them credit for trying to branch out some more, and this album definitely has its moments, but overall it could've been a lot better. In the future, they should probably try to avoid concept albums, because it didn't work for them here. With that said, The Awakening is a decent album as a whole, but there are a couple massive missteps and it really doesn't live up to its name.
Song Highlights: "Criminal Conversations," "Rise of NWO," "Revolucion," "Speed Demon"