Review By: Topher Parks
Release Date: 08/21/2015
Rating: [usr 9]
23 years is a long time. Most bands don’t last more than a decade, let alone two. Over those two decades, alternative metallers P.O.D. have released eight full-lengths, an acoustic record, a live album, countless b-sides, and now a ninth studio effort. The Awakening is the first concept album in the band’s extensive career, and it does not disappoint.
The lead-off track, “Am I Awake,” opens with a montage of audio snippets setting the mood for the album’s recurring storyline. Underneath the sound bites, band founders Wuv Bernardo and Marcos Curiel lay down a nasty groove which stays relatively quiet, until about a minute and twenty seconds in. The next element to enter the mix is Traa Daniels on bass, before finally Sonny Sandoval’s vocals come in another half-minute later. Marcos’ guitar tone throughout the verses is fantastic, and reminiscent of the Payable On Death era with Jason Truby. Sonny’s delivery is fairly subdued for P.O.D., making the song seem not nearly as heavy as it is. “Am I Awake” eventually fades out in a flood of sirens, before the listener is briefly introduced to the story’s main character. “This Goes Out To You” is a catchy sing-along with a bassline that has become so characteristic for the band. It’s a fun tune overall, but there’s nothing that makes the album’s lead single stand out.
After the song is over, the protagonist’s thoughts are interrupted by an eerie phone call, where the listener learns his name – Ten – and hears him being thrown into a state of chaos. This pairs well with the following track, “Rise of NWO.” Here, a monstrous riff lays the foundation while Sonny’s rapping makes its appearance for the first time on the song’s verses. Though over too soon, “Rise of NWO” is perhaps the most aggressive song on the record, and certainly among the album’s strongest. Ten’s story continues to unfold, and in the meantime the quartet enlists the help of In This Moment’s Maria Brink. From the dueling vocals of Sonny and Maria to the chilling instrumentation, “Criminal Conversations” is the quintessential power ballad. It’s a brief reprieve from the heaviness, which returns on “Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me,” a riffing foot-stomper in an odd meter. Things really heat up on the bridge, where the wah-wah’s rule and the nastiness gets even nastier.
“Get Down” more or less follows in this same vein, but this time with a more straight-forward time signature. It’s a solid way to get the second half of the record going. Anyone familiar with P.O.D. knows their punk background, and is aware that every album has at least one song paying homage to those roots. The Awakening features two such tracks, with the first being “Speed Demon,” an upbeat track whose title is indicative of the song itself. The immediate successor to “Speed Demon” may be the most unexpected song the San Diego natives have ever written. The groovy ¾ beat of “Want It All” isn’t all that surprising; rather, it’s the jazzy guitar and muted trumpet lines that set the track apart from nearly everything else the quartet has released in 23 years of existence. Not even the band themselves know how much longer they’ll be around, but something tells me that “Want It All” will remain a unique song in their repertoire, even long after they’re gone. At the very least, it’s a refreshing change of pace for an already-fantastic album.
The second punk jam from The Awakening is “Revolución,” a fist-pumping track punctuated by sirens and featuring a guest spot from Sick Of It All frontman Lou Koller. Much like 2012’s “Panic and Run,” the bridge of “Revolución” is substantially slower than the rest of the song, but instead of an intense breakdown, here the band kicks into a fun (albeit brief) reggae section. The story concludes with the album’s title track, where Ten reaches out to forgive his unapologetic father. As far as the song itself, the rhythm section provides the punch for an uplifting song that is otherwise all melody. It may not be the best song from the record, but “The Awakening” ends things on a high note.
P.O.D. has followed up Murdered Love with a well-executed concept album that is among their more visceral efforts overall. Not only that, but there are quite a few different sounds, from the heavy “Rise of NWO” to the jazzy “Want It All,” and everything in between. As far as setbacks go, the two weakest songs on the entire record – “This Goes Out To You” and “Speed Demon” – aren’t necessarily bad; they’re just “weak links” by the album’s standards. The rockers’ latest certainly isn’t perfect, and calling it their best would be grossly inaccurate, but The Awakening is still a top-notch release. In fact, the last P.O.D. record this great released nearly a decade ago.