Elizabeth Broun once said, “Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected.” Australia’s alt-rock outfit Awaken I Am know this better than most, taking a heart-wrenching tragedy and creating something universally beautiful from it. On May 15, 2018 the band’s 24-year-old guitarist Connor Verner-Oakley had his life cut short at the hands of a reckless driver.
“Nevermind he was Awaken I Am’s guitarist, Connor was a friend first and foremost. We needed to regroup but it was very difficult, beyond our wildest reach,” drummer Luke McKenzie says. “During the writing, recording and the lead up process to completing these songs, it forced us to face grief and loss everyday as we worked through it. The release of this EP is our chance to give ourselves and fans something to always remember Connor by while giving us closure to move on to a new chapter as a band.”
On April 26 (Connor’s birthday) Awaken I Am will release their 5-track EP The Beauty In Tragedy via Victory Records. On the EP’s title, McKenzie adds, “Through all of the pain, our goal was to take a completely tragic situation and make something beautiful from it, inspiring the name The Beauty In Tragedy. Recording this was a chance to be sad, angry, confused and trying to find a way to come to terms with the grief the best we can through music.”
Following the tragic accident, the band hit the studio with producer Taylor Larson (The Word Alive, Asking Alexandria) to create a cathartic, synth-rock record with raw, brutally beautiful, honest lyrics relatable to anyone who has ever had to deal with loss. The EP is proof that music is a method of healing and support, garnering a special connection with listeners that not many bands are capable of pulling off.
“Kin” kicks off the EP with a heavy guitar riff opening that immediately grabs your attention. You can hear the anger and aggression within the instrumentals laced with the hurt within the lyrics. The track is aimed at the responsible party in Connor’s passing, the accompanying music video released last month emphasizing the theme of the lyrics with the video’s dark tones. There’s an overwhelming emotion listeners will experience in this one that will have you paying extra close attention to the lyrics.
“It was the worst of you / That took the best from me / And now I’m left paying for your mistakes / The life you took we were a family / Does you keep up/I hope that there’s no peace.”
The next two tracks, “By Your Side” and “Dissolution” were the last two songs the band wrote with Connor before his passing. “By Your Side” slows things down a bit, a combination of melodic vocals layered over a touch of synth and a dash of hardcore. “Dissolution,” originally released in 2018, does a phenomenal job at showcasing the overall cohesiveness of the EP. Impressive vocals with effortless transitions, the song’s hard-edged instrumentals and mainstream rock vibes make it one of the most diverse tracks on the record. Drummer Luke McKenzie explains, “The last track we had the privilege of recording with Connor was ‘Dissolution,’ he was so proud of it. We shared the same dream with him and we hope to make Connor proud by keeping that dream alive with ‘The Beauty In Tragedy’.”
“Indifference” begins the conclusion of the EP with a catchy and memorable hook you’ll have a hard time shaking – not that you’d ever want to. Vocalist Jimmy Stevenson reveals the meaning behind that track stating, “Sometimes you are in a relationship where you want the best for your other half, yet that person wants to push you away and only be happy when it benefits them, and that is meaning behind ‘Indifference.”
The culmination of Awaken I Am’s EP, “The Stages Of Grief” marks the perfect close-out track by taking denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and fusing them together in a track that isn’t afraid to address the hardest parts of dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“I know they say that time will heal my wounds / But I’m only feeling bitter without you”
In an industry that frowns upon talking about the dark stuff, Awaken I Am go above and beyond in addressing what many have a hard time discussing. The Beauty In Tragedy truly lives up to its name, serving as a beautifully diverse collection of songs inspired by tragedy that will create an unmatchable connection with listeners.
Creating something that is universally beautiful, that is art.