Review Summary: Close your eyes. Listen to the call of the empire.
is quite a few things in itself. For one, in general, it is a well-constructed extreme metal album where chuggers, groovers, growlers, shredders and proggers alike will find plenty to chew and savor. What makes the album stand out, however, is its ability to sound extremely heavy while at the same time exuding ethereal lightness as well as invigorating elation. This is a feature apparent from the very beginning, and it seems that the songs all follow a similar pattern or recipe to that effect.
Perhaps the most obvious musical means to play out the 'heavy vs light' contrast is the frequent alternation in the vocal sections between death growls/screams (Elisha Mullins) and layered harmonic clean singing (Ole Børud). The latter has a distinct choral and 'angelic' vibe, reminiscent of some of the vocal harmonies on, say, Yes's 90125
or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Deja Vu
. For those not immediately eager to embrace, there is always the heavily distorted and downtuned technical riffing (on two 7-strings in dropped A, if you are interested), overlaid with melodic lead lines and paused by clean interludes at the right points. Overall one hears a strong penchant for combining catchiness with complexity in the riffing, chording and chord progressions, with a highly peculiar interplay of diminished and augmented notes that is difficult to put one's finger on. Let's just say there is an amount of jazziness involved. It is the continuous interaction of all these contrasting elements that drives forth each song as well as the whole album, determining a lot of its appeal and replay value. On top of that, there are layered harmonies throughout, from the lowest to the highest registers. Production is crisp, a bit too polished perhaps, with every instrument equally clear in the mix.
Incidentally, there most likely is a motivational link between the album's musical design and its lyrical content, which is Christian-inspired. Though mainly abstract and philosophical (no Gods or Jesuses mentioned literally, but all the more emphasis on immaterial and eternal truths/values), this is an aspect of the album one may easily cringe away from. But it does put the pervasive use of contrasting vocal and harmonic elements in perspective, as a means for conveying ideas of battlings and bridgings of opposites (dark vs light, earth vs heaven), with 'harmony' getting the undisputed overtone in the end.
If nothing else, Awaken
is testimony to the writing and instrumental skills of founding Extol member Ole Børud - which also brings us to the album's particular musical legacy. The Extol influence is undeniable, with Undeceived
vibes ringing through especially in tracks like Parallel Kingdom
, title track Awaken
and Secret Chambers
as well as in the baritone tremolo picking throughout, while the complexity of the riffs more than once brings the cerebral jazz of Synergy
to mind. Mostly though, this feels like a logical continuation of Extol's self-titled last effort, for which Børud was also the main writer. Extol skeptics may find Awaken
less demanding to get into, however, due to the absence of Peter Espevoll's signature 'grating' vocals, as well as to the fact that the dissonance in the chords and riffs is noticeably less 'punky'. (Fellow Extol guitarists/writers Ole Børud and Christer Espevoll had a peculiar chemistry going in this respect, some of which can also be found in Espevoll's own post-Extol output with Absurd² and Azusa.) The same does not count for the odd time signatures with which this album still abounds (to take just one case in point, Parallel Kingdom
switches between 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 6/8 and 11/8). But what 'masks' such avant-garde madness and makes it readily digestible is the sheer number of catchy riffs and harmonies, the generous distribution of which is maintained with surprising stamina right until the end.
The album's overall consistency makes it difficult to pick standout tracks. Listeners looking for the less unconventional 'banger' may find a gratifying access point in Warfare
. The riffs in the middle and bridge sections of Secret Chambers
and Evil Eclipse
for me are highlights in terms of catchiness and complexity, together with the beautifully woven fusion lead in the former. True Image
could be the track to turn to for an appreciation of the balanced production, while Wisdom
is a good example of the array of various transitions just one song can handle without losing the composure of an organic whole. But as already hinted, most songs present an equally effective mix of all the musical elements put to use on the album. Exploring any individual track will therefore give you a good sense of the feel and quality of the entire package.