With Awake, Godsmack takes a sharp turn off the hard-rock road that it barreled down on its self-titled debut disc. The new album gives every indication that Godsmack has the potential to be a wake-up call to the lame-ass legion of hard rock/metal bands that are borrowing the sounds of groups not much older than they are. Potential, of course, is the key word here.

It's universally agreed that Sully Erna, Godsmack vocalist and Wiccan devotee, is as influential as any of his tattooed and pierced pop-culture peers. Yet his lyric writing has, for the most part, still not caught up with his ability to structure and arrange a song or, for that matter, to produce a CD. Once Erna decides to put as much effort into what he has to say as into how he says it, mark me down for 1,000 shares of the Godsmack IPO, with a buy and hold recommendation.

There is enough raw energy here to appeal even to new fans who might want to hear something, say, from Pantera that actually seems relevant with the times. But how much longer will nouveau metal bands insist on trotting out the same old life-sucks, tormented-tantrum routine? In "Sick of Life," Erna says, somewhat unconvincingly, "I never wanted to be sick of my life. I'm tired of everything in my life." Note to Erna: We're tired, too.

He fares much better on the title cut, using his voice as an extra instrument, applying drawn-out and staccato phrasings to lay down a melody line that alternately cuts across or mirrors the dominant riff. And speaking of riffs, guitarist Tony Rambola, the other creative force behind Godsmack, lays down several decent solos (something of a lost art in this era of technophile ax players), most notably on "Awake."

It's the riffs and the song structures that shine, proving that Godsmack has more in common with Black Sabbath or even Metallica than Korn and the gang. Interestingly, the most intriguing cut is "Vampires," which borrows taped dialogue about man's fascination with the undead from the Mysterious Forces Beyond program, all set to a powerful instrumental arrangement, co-written by Erna and bassist Robbie Merrill. In it, Erna doesn't say a word. In doing so, the song speaks volumes about what this band is capable of.