Karnivool - Sound Awake
2009 Sony/EMI Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
There is a story behind the weird name Karnivool, just in case you're wondering...
Hailing from Perth, Australia, the original inception of Karnivool trails back to 1997 and a group of high school students who were known for Nirvana and Carcass covers. I know, right? The name Karnivool hilariously comes as a jibe from vocalist Ian Kenny after he swept the house clean of his original group, referring to them as "a bunch of clowns." Hence, nyuk nyuk, the name Karnivool.
Flash forward more than a decade past a couple of EPs and LPs and the fortified Karnivool has become one of the more inventive units on the prog metal scene, even if what they've ascribed to lately is more in the shadows of James Maynard Keenan and Tool. Consider the masterful Woodstock, NY unit 3, and no one will argue there's breathing room in progressive rock and metal for pinpointed vocals, alt stitches and deliberate harmonizing, all of which play into Kenny and Karnivool's overstimulated minds on their latest full-length Sound Awake.
You already grasp the feeling within the first minute of Sound Awake Karnivool brings it as luxuriant xylphone strikes greet the lumbering yet melodic "Simple Boy," growing louder and more grandiose as the song builds strength. Subsequently, "Goliath" and "New Day" show off Karnivool's tailored embossments from their preceding album Themata with admirable finesse. Later in the album, "Deadman" really shows off Karnivool's expanded capabilities with accapella servings and gorgeous Silverchair-like bridges which set up some outstanding choruses. A Pink Floyd translucence (think "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond") slipping "Deadman" into a snug guitar solo from Andrew Goddard keeps the elaborate track on its own toes, acting as a calling card of Karnivool's improved audile veneer. Extra point, "Deadman's" pounding climax (after a very long build-up) is well worth sticking around for.
"Set Fire to the Hive" is a less flamboyant hash of The Mars Volta but nearly as busy with abrupt tempo exchanges varying from blitzing polyrhythm to medium throb. The song benefits from brisk vocal patterns akin to Omar Rodriguez Lopez, plus bee-buzzing guitar parts which bridge lofty air ducts into rawk-hammered choruses akin to both Rush and Tool.
Even the choruses of the slower, whispery and methodic "Umbra" are reminiscent of Mars Volta, while the creaking verses twine systematically. "Umbra" dices out a pair of complex and expressive bridges, erupting into a brief yet voluminous solo section before clinging right back to the reprising chorus and their associated modicifications. Great, chunky riff echoes carry "Umbra" to a pointed ostinato sequence on the outro.
"All I Know" is one of the most agreeable songs on Sound Awake as it heaves on a bass heavy throb and subliminal pop straits. Jon Stockman twangs some particularly gnarly bass reverb amidst the thorough laces of the main riff exchange. If not for the exploratory bridge and solo menagerie which heaps, scales back and then heaps again in Tool fashion, "All I Know" would be a shoo-in for FM format rock, albeit Karnivool exudes more passion than your prototype Nickelback radio darling. AOR is an insult term to this band, perhaps why they deliberately tossed in a fugue break between the rhythmic furrow "All I Know" rides upon like a peacefully gliding glacier.
On the heels of the abbreviated "The Medicine Wears Off," Karnivool turns drummer Steve Judd loose for a bang-happy intro to "The Caudal Lore." The booming choruses of "The Caudal Lore" represent some of Sound Awake's most effective power punches, particularly as Judd carries the track on the throbbing funk groove of his bass pedal, setting his bandmates up for distortion-breezed bliss. Perhaps "The Caudal Lore" rambles just a bit too long, which is honestly the only real hindrance to this band.
You can admire Karnivool for wanting to make a record which brings both the razzle dazzle and concentrated tunefulness. It's almost astonishing Sony/EMI are willing to bank an American welcome to a band which asks for a little patience from its audience, much less its benefactors. At more than an hour ten, Sound Awake is full of capitalized wonderment, celestial chord designs and hefty vocal work from Ian Kenny. If you grant Karnivool attentive audience and indulge what they seek to accomplish--which is still a work in progress in terms of homogenizing their scrambled abundance of ideas--Sound Awake does pay out quite often.
Where this band is going will be determined by a resolution to either trim the fat or balloon their already-dense sound space. They will suffer the tortures of the damned from hardcore Tool sanctions because there's no denying Karnivool wants a piece of Tool's blackberry prog pie. Karnivool has undeniable talent (the calculated sound sculpting of "Change" pushes the genre through a new door of opportunity), yet there's something slightly undisciplined to Karnivool even as they inhibit the strength to achieve more streamlined songs than your typical wanking prog metal group.
Isis has brilliantly figured out how to pattern their titanic overtures less in a Tool vibe and more into a cataclysmic command over their own rising and ebbing aquaducts. Karnivool knows how to build similar tempests, however, they sometimes get lost in the drag of their own ventilations. Once Karnivool figures upon a slightly leaner form of attack, nobody will even mention Tool within their midst.
Monday, February 01, 2010
Karnivool - Sound Awake