We present to you all of the prog that’s fine to print. Odd time signatures lie ahead! Too many notes stalk these waves! Loud synths on everything!
Karnivool – The Decade of Sound Awake
There’s been much said about in the years since Karnivool’s 2009 sophomore record Sound Awake saw the light of day, but it really is incredible how the album still sounds absolutely fresh and pristine with each new listen. Throwing on “Simple Boy” for the umpteenth time, the rhythm section between Jon Stockman’s basswork and Steve Judd’s drum performance is as immaculate as ever, forming a rock-solid foundation for guitarists Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking to paint all sorts of soundscapes over. As somber and reflective as it is furious and defiant, Sound Awake has long been lauded as the band’s masterpiece, guided ever forwards by an all-time vocal performance from Ian Kenny.
It’s thus only fitting that a record like Sound Awake would be subject to its own ‘decade’ tour when the time came — but I probably don’t need to tell you why that tour never fully became reality past a few shows mid-March 2020. Given the circumstances, Karnivool opted to premiere a professionally shot live set to show what would have been that tour to the world, recording a set in the Heath Ledger theatre in their hometown of Perth to be livestreamed on May 12th.
And livestreamed on May 12th it was. The Decade of Sound Awake begins, however, not with immediate rumbling basslines and ambient guitar work, but with a land acknowledgement of the Whadjuk people as the traditional custodians of the land. There’s much more I could write about how this hits home even here in Canada, where over the past few weeks even more infuriating news has come to light about the horrific legacy of residential schools. All I will mention for the time being is that Karnivool have long made no secret about the importance of honouring, respecting, and learning from Aboriginal cultures, and it’s something that would be nice to see North American bands take a page out of at minimum.
Following the land acknowledgement, the show offers a quick shot of a hooded figure walking into the theatre, and then we’re off to the races with “Simple Boy”. The iconic opening bassline still sounds as phenomenal as ever, and it’s impossible not to sing along with Kenny from the get-go: “I’m high – above the world. Why should I feel pain? Or feel at all?” Off the bat, one thing is plainly apparent: no matter how unbelievably good Karnivool are in the studio, they’re just one of those bands that consistently manage to sound even better live: whether it’s the dynamics of every single ambient guitar note, every single drum fill, or every note Kenny’s voice hits, it all either matches or eclipses the performance on the studio version.
A special mention is also owed to the phenomenal camera work on display here. There’s plenty going on musically, of course, but the focus always seems to be ‘in the right place’, whether it’s the extended shots of Judd’s drum intro during “The Caudal Lure” or the close ups of Goddard’s measured guitar work during the swirling spacey outro of “Umbra”. It’s a minor thing that goes a long way and ensures the focus is always on what feels like the best thing, as opposed to haphazardly switching angles and the like.
Of course, for all the excellent songwriting on the album, it’s undeniable that its final 20 minutes — a suite consisting of just two songs, “Deadman” and “Change” — arguably constitute one of the greatest one-two punches to close an album that the genre has ever seen. “Deadman” is of course performed to perfection, from its somber midsection to its heart-pounding highs. But the livestream takes on another tone entirely when the foreboding transition between the two songs (a take on “Change Pt. 1” from debut Themata) comes in, with Ian Kenny standing amidst the vast sprawl of empty seats in the arena at the start of the final track. “Change” sees Karnivool bring out Sam Pilot-Kickett performing a traditional Aboriginal didgeridoo on stage, the deep and rich sounds of the instrument intertwining with Stockman’s bass to make for an indescribably spine-chilling low-end sound: my floor might as well have been shaking, desk speakers be damned. The performance of “Change” here inspires genuine awe: the light show, the camera work, and the production all in perfect synchrony no less. It’s nigh impossible to not be in a trance for the full ten-plus minute runtime of the song.
After “Change” eventually winds down, the encore section of the show is a fantastic mashup of the best of the rest, including a performance of live staple “Roquefort” complete with the horn section the band always intended the song to have. Finally, new-and-still-unreleased tune “All It Takes” rounds off the show, still groovy, powerful, and uniquely Karnivool, and reminding the listener that there is still more to come.
This has already gotten far longer than I intended it to be, but in short: The Decade of Sound Awake is the most phenomenally put together recorded live show I have seen in a very long time. It’s a performance that is not only worthy of the record it honours but one that often outshines even the record itself. That said, it seems there’s no way to rewatch it at present, and I have to say it’d be a tragedy if this performance is never released in some form because it is simply too good to not live on for the world to witness; in the meantime, if you missed it, be sure to take a few minutes to soak in the majesty of “Goliath” below.
Silver Talon – Decadence and Decay
Good prog-power is not a thing to take lightly these days; it’s hard to come by. Luckily, there are still a few bands making this excellent, and often underrated, sub-genre and Silver Talon is one great example of it. Drawing more on bands like Nevermore than Blind Guardian, Silver Talon’s Decadence and Decay is chock-full of snappy riffs, majestic vocals, and forceful grooves, all tinted darkly. The end result is an album which sticks with you, way more than just a collection of fast notes and technically impressive screams but a cohesive unit which channels the same conceptual aspirations of something like Ark and that’s high praise if I’ve ever given it.
Frost*- Day and Age
Frost* are an interesting case; originally founded in 2006, they garnered a fair number of listeners before disappearing off the face of earth and reappearing with one of my favorite “modern” progressive rock albums, Falling Satellites. While their previous EP wasn’t really my cup of tea, Day and Age proves that Frost* is the real deal instead of a one or two time fluke which will burn off the face of the earth. The album is chock full of great melodies, whether synth or guitar led, and a grand scale which feels effortless. Where other “concept” albums feel cumbersome and childish, Frost* are able to take a content heavy album (it has several voice over passages, for example, literally telling you a story) and make it sound light-footed and appealing. Day and Age is somehow expansive and intimate at the same time, hitting that sweet spot for sweeping progressive rock that’s also engaging on a moment to moment basis. If you need more convincing, just throw on “The Boy Who Stood Still” and listen to that sweet, sweet groove section go.