KARNIVOOL — Sound Awake

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KARNIVOOL - Sound Awake cover
3.87 | 25 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 2009


1. Simple Boy (5:47)
2. Goliath (4:37)
3. New Day (8:20)
4. Set Fire to the Hive (4:28)
5. Umbra (7:50)
6. All I Know (4:53)
7. The Medicine Wears Off (1:49)
8. The Caudal Lure (6:16)
9. Illumine (5:12)
10. Deadman (12:04)
11. Change (10:47)

Total Time 72:10


- Drew Goddard / guitar
- Mark Hosking / guitar
- Steve Judd / drums
- Ian Kenny / vocals
- Jon Stockman / bass

Additional musicians:
- Jason Bunn / viola (track 5)
- Louise Conray / percussion (tracks 1 & 11)
- Talfryn Dawlings / vocals (track 2)
- Zak Hanyn / vocals (track 2)
- Sam Pilot Kickett / didgeridoo (track 11)
- Jessop Maticeuski Shumack / vocals (track 2)
- Grant McCulloch / vocals (track 10)
- Jules Pacy-Cole / vocals (track 2)
- Javin Sun / vocals (track 2)

About this release

Label: Cymatic Records / Sony Music
Release Date: June 5, 2009 (Aus), February 16, 2010 (US)

Recorded at Blackbird / Kingdom Studios, Perth, Western Australia.
Produced by Forrester Savell and Karnivool.
Mixed by Forrester Savell except tracks 7 and 8 by Dave Parkin.
Mix assistant: Rick Mafferty
Mastered by Tom Coyne.
Concept and design by Chris Frey.
Photography by Nicole Norelli.

Note: "Deadman" does not run until 12:04, it stops at 10:08, and is followed by a re-recorded version of the closing song from Themata, "Change (Part 1)", which then segues into "Change (Part 2)". The re-recorded version of "Change (Part 1)" contains vibraphone instead of the ambience found on the Themata version, and only runs for 1:57, compared to the Themata version, which ran to 3:28. It also contains slightly modified lyrics from the original.

Thanks to Stooge for the addition


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Karnivool's Sound Awake finds the band making perhaps their most gripping and seamless expression of their blend of alternative metal and progressive rock. In the "metal bands who've listened to a bunch of Pink Floyd" stakes, they rank well alongside acts like Anathema - and truth be told, I find them less dependent on heavy handed Floyd-isms than Anathema and much more original in their sound. That said, I still find that this is a bit of a hit-or-miss album; in particular, the band are building this prog edifice based on a foundation from the poppier end of alt-metal, which bugged me and I suspect may bug other listeners who find alternative metal to be a bit of a mixed bag.
Aus proggers Karnivool released a dynamic alternative heavy prog album "Sound Awake", reminiscent of Tool, Cardiacs, Live or Soundgarden. Many cite this album as their pinnacle, as it is consistent in quality and innovative approach. It is a lengthy album of almost 80 minutes of powerful melodic and inventive prog rock.

'Simple Boy' drives along on a powerful time sig, confident loud vocals of Ian Kenny, crashing explosive drums, and an infectious chorus. 'Goliath' starts in 7/4 then locks into a weird 6/4 tempo, before the more conventional chorus. The bass tones of Jon Stockman are incredible, with a fuzzy sound and this is complimented by chiming jangly guitar phrases.

'New Day' has a guitar rhythmic intro then some tempo beats come in over the relaxed singing style. It builds to a measured rock vibe, some reverb guitar motifs and a new feel midway through; "hey let's get lost in a crowd, I'll show you much more". The heavier guitars are welcome in the instrumental break and it sounds somewhat like Live, one of my favourite 90s bands, especially their masterpieces "Throwing Copper" and "Secret Samadhi" that they never topped.

'Set Fire To The Hive' is much heavier with caustic phased vocals and some aggressive guitar riffs. This sounds a bit like System of a Down in places. It is the band unleashing a furious attack of raw guitar and pounding drum and bass rhythms, complete with police sirens. 'Umbra' has a nice melodic intro with some complex time sigs to follow. The guitar crashes with high powered drum ferocity, but the vox are soft and gentle in contrast. The light moments are darkened with brutal guitar tones. The lyrics are thought provoking; "Imagine that everything's effected by a cause, well I don't feel so lucky you know" and "set in stone and blood, hold your promise." The ending is wonderful, with low guttural guitar splashes on an urgent drum beat that fade into a spacey tone. 'All I Know' segues seamlessly with an odd quirky riff and nice harmonised singing; "Are you with me, this is more than just infinity, I'm a soul taker, hey is this the end of all I know." The lead guitar break is very pleasant with sustained tones and it breaks into a Tool like rhythm. 'The Medicine Wears Off' is a short piece at 1:49, which is rather melancholy with outstanding singing from Kenny. It leads to 'The Caudal Lure' that veers into odd time sigs from 4/4, 3/4 to 2/4, and the drums of Steve Judd are intricate throughout. It has a rock feel and some blasting guitar riffs.

'Illumine' begins with sonic feedback and very distorted guitars leading to the verse; "don't listen, don't even hear a sound they make, it breaks you, words that haunt you while you're sleeping, you seem afraid, don't be alone." This has a nice melodic line and more commercial in sound then previous songs.

'Deadman' is the longest song at 12 minutes, with cool percussion grooves and rhythmic guitar picking. The vocals are well executed with lyrics such as; "Grab your belongings the exit is near, this can't be happening." The song breaks into a new time sig with faster tempos at the 4 minute mark, this leads to a glorious lead break from Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking. The jerky off sync guitar riff at 9 minutes is a dynamic touch, and then it moves to a low vocal and bells on this excellent highlight. The last section is gentle high register vox, and Pink Floydian guitar sounds. 'Change [Part 2]' is also long (10:47) and another highlight opening with machine grinding crushing guitar blasts. The didgeridoo is killer along with cool vocals and it moves to a section reminding me of Live at 3 and a half minutes in; "what a way to see this thing out, what a way to lay your burden down". The low grinding drone has a Tool sound and the way it blazes into the odd riff sig. The drum solo at the end by Judd is fantastic.

'Roquefort' closes the album with a bright riff and very low end bass, and the vocals are more aggressive. It is more of an FM radio track than others but finishes on a rocker with melody and heavy riffs.

Overall "Sound Awake" is a very dynamic and powerful album that will resonate with fans of Tool yet Karnivool inject their own style with some passion and fire. The riffs are ever changing along with tempo shifts, and the mood throughout is consistent with a dark edge and moody atmospheres. It is an excellent lengthy journey and showcases the best of Australian music at its most alternative and progressive.
Anyone with the desire to peruse the progressive hard rock genre can see a clear dichotomy in the genre. On one side is the classic 70s sound, with thick Hammond swaths, overdriven guitar riffs, and a blues-rock based sound. On the other side is the more modern style, made up of the post-hardcore, punk, alt-metal, and other "modern" heavy rock bands that dabble in more progressive styles, most notable Porcupine Tree and The Mars Volta. While both constitute "heavy" prog, it's almost amusing how different the two styles can be. Karnivool rose out of a Perth-based garage band formed by singer Ian Kenny in the late 90s. The band initially played a quite standard form of the nu-metal which had exploded over the past decade. The band, which gradually evolved over the years, released first the Persona EP in 2001, then the Themata LP in 2005, both displaying their rather average brand of alt metal. Finally, around 2008 something snapped. With the addition of Steve Judd on drums and John Stockman on bass, the band suddenly seemed driven to experiment with their sound. The masterful product of their mind-opening music adventure was their 2009 opus Sound Awake.

The sound of this album is hard to explain outright. The band, in their four year rest period from Themata, had obviously dabbled in countless different genres, ranging from atmospheric post rock and metal, jazz fusion, some kind of bass-heavy music, progressive metal, Porcupine Tree-esque psych-flavored hard rock and metal, and countless other experimental and progressive styles. On top of this, the quintet's chemistry as a compositional team exploded, as the album's fluidity and ease of transitions is expressed with ultimate grace constantly throughout the 75+ minute album. The crystal clear production and spot-on musicianship shines through the quintet's obvious passion and desire in their music. The harmonies, communication, and liquid nature of the music is perfect. Whether they are gently floating down melodically dense passages, cruising through aggressive sections of near metallic fury, the band is accurate in every attempt they make at composition.

Similar to the majestic Australian countryside, Sound Awake takes the listener on a musical journey, travelling across Outback plains of sand and stone, cityscape vistas of metropolitan chaos, and oceanic masses of majestic beauty. With dynamic like the beauteous soundscapes and post-rock inspired "New Day," the fast-paced and ferocious "Set Fire to the Hive," the epic grandeur of the 20-minute duo of "Deadman" and "Change," and every delicious second that lies out and in between, this album certainly has its share of masterful beauty. And while the band has technically been around for over a decade, this sophomore release certainly shows the band's alarming amount of maturity in music.

Speechlessness is most likely my first reaction on a simple perusal listen of the album. At first I thought a 76 minute album by this (at the time) unknown Australian band may have been a bit too daunting for one digestion, but I was quickly proven wrong by this breathtaking album. The consistent quality, constant pleasure, and commanding masterfulness of the album make it easily one of the best new releases by one of the "modern" heavy prog band. While at the time of this review's authorship Karnivool have yet to release a new album, many are eagerly awaiting more of this delicious formula, and understandably so. Highly recommended. 5 stars.

Members reviews

Has it really been five years since Sound Awake? Damn.

Ever since I started doing this review-on-anniversary thing, I've been kind of surprised at what comes of. More often than not I’m thinking “damn, five years already. I can remember when this one was still getting hype”, but in the case of Sound Awake, I’m seriously amazed at how it’s managed to get where it is in terms of reputation in just that time. I mean, this is the Aussie post-prog record. Responsible for a bucketload of bands following down that line and an even bigger number rising up from birth with this style in mind. And it’s not as if Karnivool did it with multiple releases - Asymmetry was both dissappointing and released way too late to have any impact; almost all of Karnivool’s legendary status in modern progressive rock stemmed from this one record.

Back when I was first getting into this album, a couple of years ago, I was always wary about how much these guys flaunted their Tool influence. It was funny, because back then I wasn’t really even a Tool fan, but I knew their sound, and I knew that Sound Awake was down that line. Everything about this band screamed “Tool clone”. Their names rhyme, they have pretentiously daft lyrics, both bands have links to rather embarrassing alt-metal in their roots, their album covers have ~meaningful~ imagery and are always released half a decade apart, and the way they construct their instrumentals is uncannily similar. I praised Karnivool for taking that sound and making it digestible and frankly a lot better, but in time, as I have ventured more into both bands, I have realised that this does stand separate from its mother quite a bit, and is a milestone record in its own right.

But the thing that reminds me the most about Tool here is how easy it is to fanboy over this shit. When I was giving this a good listen yesterday with proper headphones, I was floored at how much I could pick out to comment on instrumentally. Nearly every performance on this record is flawless. The instrumentals are tight as hell and perfectly balanced, the vocals are a perfect harmony of soft, the tones on both the guitars and drums are spellbinding - everything I was saying about it pointed me towards the way Tool fans talk about their music. But although I will try not to fanboy, instrumentally, this is phenomenal. Everything about this record has an intense, tribal feel to it, and the guitar and bass aren’t just playing boring old lines; they’re darting around the drums and above them and intertwining into each others ranges. The music here captures such a brilliant sense of tribal intensity, particularly in the drums. I absolutely adore the little grace notes that Steve Judd throws on the snare hits throughout the album, and he frequently gets the chance to shine through in some solo segments (the album is even bookended with drum solos), my favourite moments being during “Goliath” and “Change”.

The bass guitar also gets a good run here, and is in fact one of my favourite albums for audible and unique bass guitar. Using the extended range of the 6-string, Stockman manages to throw in some pretty solid high riffs and solos, evident during tracks like “Umbra” or my favourite here, “New Day”. But my favourite use of the bass is the thick and chunky low-end riffs that come into a track like “Set Fire To The Hive”, with the tone thick and throaty and brutally intense. The track on the whole is pretty mediocre, and easily the weakest here (even below interlude track “The Medicine Wears Off” in my ears), but the song is kept alive by the combination of the thick bass tone and the intense tribal drumming.

But for me, there’s no denying that my love for this record definitely revolves around the brilliance of one track, the absolutely spellbinding “New Day”. A week or so ago, I reviewed IQ's 2009 album Frequency, and I referred to its title track being in an elite of near-perfect songs for me. These two tracks are certainly linked in the way they develop and link together so many beautiful melodies, but New Day is in a league of its own. I don’t regularly make lists of songs - I find there are too many of them to make a meaningful ranking, but if I did, I have a strange feeling that this would end up on top, or at least in the top 5.

The song is woven around three primary vocal melodies, and two primary riffs, that could all make a wonderful song on their own, but here are compiled to make something beyond that. I love the way the song opens - with just the single solemn vocal, speaking out softly as the muted delay-guitar flutters in the background. I especially love when this melody comes back in right at the climax, as if to give a new high for the song to rise to. Everything has just built up to the top of the universe in intensity with one of the heaviest riffs on the record, but then the intro comes back in, perfectly settling it down before an even bigger and even heavier riff comes flying in for the final chorus. And then I love how that riff was actually also featured in the intro, played softly on the Dead Letter Circus/Jade Puget-esque palm-muted delay guitar, in transitioning the first part into the verse. I could really go on listing the things I love about this track, and there are hundreds of them, and there’s really nothing I don’t like about it, although my one nitpick would be that some of the softer bits go on a bit long (and by “a bit” I mean two bars), and lose a bit of the intensity, and I am not a fan of the song fading out, but it is forgiven because the song is basically done by then. But on the whole, I seriously cannot name another song that hits me as hard as this one, with all its melodies and riffs and perfect structuring. I may as well name it now as the best song ever, but I know that I would retract it later for perfectionism’s sake.

Of the rest of the album, there are still great tracks. “All I Know” is definitely my #2, and is honestly the proper choice for the album’s single (I have no idea how “Set Fire To The Hive” managed to catch on, although I would wager bogans had something to do with it). The song has a ridiculously catchy groove and an even catchier vocal melody, layering some radio-worthy hooks over some wank-worthy instrumentals. I really love the second verse on here, how Kenny’s vocals become clearer and more emotive, by dropping the Steve Wilson telephone voice effect, as well as the song’s bridge, which contains some insane syncopation that even gets a bit too much for me.

So where does Sound Awake fall? Obviously, this isn’t a perfect record, as evident by my score for it, but its flaws are all rather small and insignificant. For one, the album is certainly too long. It’s undeniably consistent throughout, and aside from “Set Fire To The Hive” and “The Medicine Wears Off”, every song here is a solid 7/10 and definitely enjoyable. But the problem lies within the songs, and also within their repetitiveness. I don’t care if every song here is good, hearing over an hour of intense and intricate alt-metal is always going to leave me slightly bored come the ending. A track like “The Caudal Lure” is definitely solid, and a great addition to the album, but it leans so heavily on the one fantastic chorus - “we should have known better not to taste the wine we swallow”. And as great as it is, I can’t help but feel that the entire song would fall down if it wasn’t there to continue to be great. While every song here is good, there are moments that I wish this album was more concise, for reasons entirely based around the fact that there are many parts of this album that immediately link back to earlier parts. And also - Kenny’s accent does get rather annoying at parts.

The album finishes with two monstrous tracks, both exceeding 10 minutes in length, and I honestly used to use them as a reason to dislike this album. Time and many subsequent listens has revealed their greatness to me, but I still firmly believe they're just a bit too much. Both of them have frequent use of intense tribal drumming, the former with some wonderful palm-mute-delay guitar under it that releases wonderfully to let ring under the hook, and the latter featuring some rumbling bass and the repetitive and rather surreal "hello hollow halo" lines floating above, and of course, a mutha fuckin didgeridoo. How can you have tribal-like Australian music without one of those, right? Both songs are intense and long, but I feel both run their course early and have unnecessary extensions. I love the ending of "Change, Part 2", with the "question who we are" melody and acoustic guitar, but it really feels like an annex, because the song has really completed its purpose after the last chorus. And the last few minutes of "Deadman" are just completely unnecessary, and make a strong track into one that overstays its welcome significantly. Although I do love the brief inclusion of Change Part 1 from Themata at the end - it makes for a glorious transition into its sequel.

Sound Awake is most certainly a classic of modern progressive rock, and one of the most recently crowned classics in my ears. Inventive, influential, insanely tight and yet beautifully melodic, it has set the gold standard for the Australian post-prog sound that we know, and no one has beaten it yet (although Dead Letter Circus came close with This Is the Warning). A wondrous album, containing more or less the greatest song of all time in my opinion, this is proof that progressive rock is still flourishing in the 21st century.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

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