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Karnivool - Sound Awake CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.10 | 338 ratings

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5 stars Every once in awhile, most music listeners are going to discover an album that feels like it was made specifically for them, but somehow managed to slip under their radar for an obscenely long time. Sound Awake has proved to be one of those albums for me.

Without going into too much personal detail, I'll simply say that the months of February and March 2019 have been extremely difficult from a physical and mental health perspective for me. I haven't been in any danger of death, but I've seldom been this sick since my childhood, which has also left my emotional and mental health in a questionable state.

It has been against this background that I first heard Sound Awake. I'm sure I'd heard the name Karnivool before 2019, but it wasn't in any context that made it seem like it was a name I needed to pay attention to. A friend with trusted music taste suggested I listen to their music in January, however, and I got around to Sound Awake in February because it had the highest rating here.

This album grabbed my attention from the first note. I immediately liked the melodies, but it was the clever Led Zeppelin reference midway through the first song that made me suspect there was something truly special here. The whole album held my attention well enough that I wanted to put it on again fairly soon after it ended.

It's fairly rare for an album to blend immediately memorable melodies with great musical depth. I would contend that this is one of those rare albums. I would compare it to Wobbler's From Silence to Somewhere in this respect. The two bands don't sound much alike, to be clear - Wobbler is the sort of classicist symphonic prog band where you have to listen hard for any musical features to distinguish the band from '70s progressive groups (those features are there, to be clear, but they're relatively subtle), while Karnivool has a slick modern rock sound for better and worse (the "worse" in this case mostly being the typical loudness war mastering, which in my book is the only significant weakness of this album). But both bands know how to compose immediately compelling melodies without sacrificing replay value.

I won't go through a track-by-track review here. A few highlights, for my money, are "Change", "Deadman", "The Caudal Lure", and "Umbra", but despite its long running time, this isn't one of those albums where it'd be possible to do without some of the songs; they all serve an essential purpose here. There aren't as many actual songs as the track listing makes it seem, anyway - "The Medicine Wears Off" is essentially the first movement of "The Caudal Lure", and while "Illumine" is clearly a separate song, it's so cleverly linked to its predecessor that I prefer to think of them as a long, continuous suite of music. (While we're at it, part of "Change" is actually indexed as part of "Deadman" - the latter track runs for about 10:11 and the former for about 12:40.)

But I'm not really here to talk about the individual songs. The band's composition is on point throughout; all of the songs possess the mixture of strong melodies and musical depth that are far too rare in modern music. This band is frequently written off as a Tool clone, but even though the band themselves acknowledge Tool's influence on them, I feel that influence is often overstated in the musical press. Drummer Steve Judd has obviously listened judiciously to Tool's Danny Carey, but overall, I hear more Porcupine Tree in Karnivool's sound than I hear Tool.

When music is this strongly composed, though, I also feel playing spot-the-musical-influence is missing the point (though as an aside, I will add that "Set Fire to the Hive" strikes me as Karnivool's attempt to write an At the Drive-In song, and it's quite successful). Karnivool has enough depth to their sound to make them more than the sum of their influences. A large part of that is due to the band's strength as musicians. Kenny is a superb vocalist and the guitar parts from Goddard and Hosking are strong throughout, but I feel the real stars of the show are Stockman and Judd. This album's performances rest on the strength of its rhythmic foundation, and both of them are up to the task.

I've listened to this album some twenty times since I first heard it last month, in no small part because I find it difficult to listen to it only once. Somehow, I haven't even gotten sick of it. I think that's because, as I said, I've been going through a particularly difficult time, and this album has turned into a significant comfort. In a way, it is so good that I find it difficult to evaluate the band's other work fairly. I've liked Asymmetry both times I've listened to it so far, but I'm too preoccupied with this album to give its successor the attention it clearly deserves. I haven't even put the band's earlier work on yet, though I'm sure it's also good.

If this band somehow slipped under your radar too, give them a chance. I find it very difficult to imagine very many progressive rock fans disliking this album. For my money it's one of the finest albums of the '00s.

CassandraLeo | 5/5 |


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