Recording information: Sparky Dark Studio, Calabasas, CA; West Valley Studios, Woodland Hills, CA.
Editor: Paul DeCarli.
The ninth studio long player from the spiritually charged, cosmopolitan, San Diego-based hard rock veterans, Awakening is another musically adventurous set from the always versatile Payable on Death, and a heavy, albeit life-affirming conceptual album that follows a central protagonist navigating the inner and outer wastelands in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Peppered with atmospheric bits of prepared media and snippets of dialogue (the brooding opener "Am I Awake" is prefaced by a veritable grocery list of the world's ills, both past and present), the ten-track set, which features guest spots from In This Moment frontwoman Maria Brink and Sick of It All frontman Lou Koller, is obviously meant to be devoured in a single sitting. Luckily, P.O.D. keep things interesting throughout the record's just-over-40-minute runtime, touching on everything from anthemic alt-rock ("This Goes Out to You") and fiery hip-hop ("Get Down") to hardcore punk ("Revolucin") and soaring post-grunge ("The Awakening"). The story itself is fairly straightforward; heartache begets self-destruction and eventually redemption, but P.O.D. manages to deliver the goods with an easy, everyman prowess and just the right amount of humility and tough love to lend conviction to even the most strident narrative tropes. It also helps that they infuse each song with equal parts economy, melody, and grit, effectively laying to waste any notion that all concept albums are bloated, try-hard exercises in hubris that forget that a solidly executed song far outweighs a lofty idea. ~ James Christopher Monger