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 I've been waiting for, "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 is that it was far from, "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 love 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.
In all honesty, I think this album is all about Ian Kenny. Man, he 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. With lyrics such as, "God's not where you hope, he's more than come and gone; it's time we all moved on," "[t]here's something peculiar 'bout the way you pay to save your soul," and, "I will not get back in my cell; I will not let a savior define my freedom," he leaves little room for the listener's personal interpretation.
Instrumentation-wise, "Sound Awake" is less heavier than, "Themata." It's much more melodic and groove-laden. You can really tell this album was a collaborative effort between the boys, because there are times where it feels like you're right there in the studio with the them while they're jammin' on a groove and just feelin' it. Some people may not find this appealing, but being a musician myself, I absolutely love it. It's difficult to explain (it just kind of has to be heard), but, "Sound Awake" has these guys sounding like they're feeding off of each other and playing *together* in ways I rarely perceive on, "Themata." The music makes you want to see this live, because there is so much on this album that would allow for the audience to really connect intimately instead of just rocking out (which there's nothing wrong with).
If you're looking for instrumental virtuosity in the form of insane leads and riffs that are in and of themselves a form of a lead, you're not going to find it here. No, the virtuosity of this album is encompassed in the absolutely wonderful song writing. These guys have put together some REALLY great compositions for this album! I don't want to just give it all away with spoiler play-by-plays of each song, so here's a brief description of what you can expect:
Simple Boy: This song has a very layered, progressive, yet straightforward feel. It's one of the more rockin' tunes on the album, overall.
Goliath: Perhaps the heaviest groove on the album, make no mistake that this song is one you'll want to blast in your car with the windows down for all to hear!
New Day: This is the first lengthy song on the album, clocking in at 8:20. It's incredibly melodic and builds into a tremendous wall of melodic heaviness for its climax.
Set Fire to the Hive: This is the album's single which you can hear all over the web. When I first heard this song, I didn't really dig it; admittedly, it took a few listens to really grab me completely (I always dug the chorus of the song, though). If you make the connection between the lyrical content and the music, you realize that the music really seems to follow the lyrical progression and is there to add emotional context to what Ian Kenny is saying.
Umbra: The intro of this really brings the band, "A Perfect Circle" to mind, so fans of APC will probably really gravitate to this song initially. This is the next somewhat lengthy tune on the album, clocking in at 7:50. It follows a similar musical path as, "New Day" in terms of how it builds up.
All I Know: One of my personal favorites on the album, the lyrical context is incredibly deep. Musically, it's very melodic and groove-laden. There are heavy passages in this song, but the song as a whole really shines.
The Medicine Wears Off: Somewhat of an interlude, it's only 1:49 but somehow feels much longer than that in the context of listening to this album from beginning to end. It's very laid back and flows well. Also of note, it's not just an instrumental!
The Caudal Lure: This song has a quirky polymetric beginning that may seem unsettling to some people, but I love it. Overall, this song is up there with the heaviest on the album. The end of it, I particularly love with its layered groove and emotionally-grabbing feel under Ian Kenny's faint repetition of, "[w]here's your God?"
Illumine: It's constant distortion on the guitars for this song, so expect a full-out, rockin' tune.
Deadman: The longest song on the album at 12:04, it's an epic song that just has to be heard. It goes through many shifts between laid-back groovin', heavy riffage, soaring melodies and harmonies... this song has it all.
Change: The second-longest song on the album at 10:47, it's much heavier throughout but less epic than, "Deadman." That being said, it's still a great song.
All-in-all, as with, "Themata," this album is going to have a very high replay value for me for years and years to come! So, if you're a fan of Karnivool, you probably already have this album... but, if not, what are you waiting for!? =) If you're expecting, "Themata," give this album all of just 2 listens and you'll find yourself beyond your expectations and in the realization that this album is both equally as amazing and unique as, "Themata."
For those of you who have never heard Karnivool, you're in for a serious treat... especially if you're from the U.S., because these guys are everything you've ever come to love about any good hard rock band over here and THEN some. Hopefully, they'll blow up over here at some point, but I've got a bad feeling that the genius of Karnivool will perpetually go as unnoticed over here as has the genius of other Australian bands, i.e. Silverchair, Dead Letter Circus, and The Butterfly Effect.
Regardless, get this album. You absolutely won't regret it!