Karnivool - Sound Awake
Record Label: Cymatic/Sony
Release Date: June 5, 2009 (Australia)/February 16, 2010 (US)
Karnivool are not opposed to change. Throughout the years, their style has changed constantly to what’s presented on their latest offering. The Perth rock outfit, formerly known for their dabbling in nu-metal infused alternative rock, venture into a more mature progressive rock sound with their second album in over ten years, Sound Awake. Never mind though, it’s worth the wait.
Through a long, enduring, and reasonably successful career, who would have thought Karnivool had yet to unleash their greatest assets? Opening the affair, “Simple Boy” unleashes Ian Kenny’s powerful, soaring vocals, which we only caught in glimpses on previous efforts. Rather than soak this eloquent voice with shredding guitars (see: Themata), a lazy bass line and ambient guitars propel Kenny’s voice to center stage. Though slow, “Simple Boy” still shows their signature intensity, replacing reckless guitars with tense vocals. The five years between albums have been well spent, with the band honing their writing skills and learning to utilize their talents.
“Goliath” takes on a heavier sound which older fans may be more accustomed to (particularly Jon Stockman’s notable presence on bass), but “New Day” confirms this to be a new Karnivool. Displaying one of the best vocal efforts from Kenny, he moves between quiet hums and epic, soaring choruses, before allowing the track to explode with intensity, guitarists Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking given the chance to flaunt their talent.
Though some may consider it out of place, “Set Fire to the Hive” moves the tension from the end of “New Day” into aggression. The buzzing of guitars along with crashing cymbals creates a hectic scene, unleashing the only real indulgence for those expecting another Themata. “Umbra” seals away the old Karnivool sound for good as ambiance becomes the focus, taking cues from later post-metal efforts of bands such as Isis and mixing it with Kenny’s prominent vocals.
“All I Know” begins a distinct groove which dominates the second half of the album. Whether it’s the twanging guitars, catchy choruses or rhythmic drumming of Steve Judd, the latter songs on the album take a more resilient stance, shrugging the notions of angst in earlier songs. Flaunting their progressive influences with some off-kilter time signatures and memorable lyrics, songs such as “The Caudal Lure” and “Illumine” exploit the instrumental abilities of Karnivool, but they are only to be overshadowed by the closing two tracks.
Slow-building tracks being essential to the Karnivool sound, “Deadman” proves no differently. Judd is reduced to a slow, catchy beat to open the track, and quickly met with typical guitar riffing. Joined by the steady voice of Kenny, the song begins its wavering path through the twelve minute ride. Perfecting the conversions between soft and loud, lingering and dominant, “Deadman” is the composition of everything Karnivool have displayed throughout the album.
Sound Awake is a brilliant, epic journey. Karnivool’s ability to entwine progressive rock with accessibility draws a new audience to the genre whilst driving Karnivool to become one of the leaders in Australian music, and deservedly so. Even if it takes another five years, you can be sure Karnivool’s next release will push their musical boundaries once more. Whether or not they can top Sound Awake, we'll just have to wait and see.