Album Review: Awaken ‘Monsters & Machines’

Review of Awaken’s Monsters & Machines
By Octavio Ramos Jr.
Hailing from Tennessee, Awaken has been developing its sound on the road for the past 10years, sharing the stage with the likes of In This Moment, Red Jumpsuit, Art of Dying, and Pop Evil. Monsters & Machines is the band’s fourth full-length studio album, one that builds on its
three previous EP and full-length releases.
Fusing facets of alternative and hard rock with pristine melodies, the tracks on Monsters & Machines bring out a bottom-heavy sound that is intense but over which the band sets up some subtle but intricate melodies and soaring vocals. The rhythm section of Jimi Wilkins on drums and Case “sludge” Reagan on bass is what drives the band’s core sound, giving the tracks a sustained drive that can be pulled back on a dime.
Thus, the opening track “The River” kicks off with a wall of heavy sound that pulls back for vocalist Chad Griffin to weave his story, whereas on the stunner “Behemoth” the driving drums and unrepentant bass bring out the riffs and leads of guitarist Dustin Simpson.
Most of the 12 songs on this disc take advantage of keyboard stings in their openers, but the guitar takes center stage, with Simpson knowing when to pull back into a rhythm only to explode into some excellent leads that straddle in-your-face riffage with some finger-numbing melodies.
And then there’s Griffin, whose clean vocal delivery masks inner angst without the drama, with the background vocals giving his performance an added edge.
What’s really impressive about Awaken is that the band never abandons its alternative and hard rock sound (“In Your Sky,” with its mid-tempo and undercurrent of hard rock), instead using its best characteristics to weave a certain pop sensibility (check out the track “Dramatic”) and melodic approach (“Stained Glass”) but never giving into such sounds outright. It’s one hell of a straddle, but these dudes pull it off with aplomb. Then there are songs like “A Rose for a Tragedy” that seemingly channel the likes of Acid Bath, with the vocals eerily reminiscent of
Dax Riggs.
Lyrically, the band explores Christian values and stories (“If Our Voices were the Cure”), but it never preaches. Instead, the approach is beautifully spiritual, tackling our emotions and perceptions as human beings and how it can be difficult to make the correct choices to thrive and not harm others. Check out this piece taken from the track “Behemoth”: “It feels like a monster growing inside/Trying to claw its way out/It seems like somewhere we’ve lost our minds/Fighting through the webs of our doubts/By ourselves we’ll crash, burn, and sever/But you are there to put our ashes back together.”
Pushing alternative and hard rock into a sound that has a softcore but whose mantel nevertheless seethes pure face-slapping rock, Monsters & Machines has Awaken rousing the
wolves indeed.