Album Review: Sleep Token - Sundowning
Artist: Sleep Token
Genre: Art Rock / Electronic Rock / Progressive Metal / Alternative Metal
Review by: Karl O’Shea
Sleep Token are an anomaly in today’s music climate. For starters, their insistence on complete anonymity is remarkably refreshing in an age where it seems like we know everything about our favourite musicians (or at least, what they share on social media). Furthermore, their premise of being the musical faction of a cult that worships a deity roughly translated as “Sleep” is a new concept in the world of “bands wearing costumes as a gimmick”. It helps that their look is more unsettling than say, a band like GWAR or Ghost. Last but not least, the visual element and mystery is all in service to the music - a forward-thinking combination of soulful electronica, dream pop and djent-style progressive metal. They are one of the few current “heavy” bands that genuinely don’t care about musical boundaries and they pull it off with aplomb. It’s hard to think of another band that combines musical elements in quite the same way.
Sundowning is an album that has been sequentially released every fortnight since April 20th up until it’s release date of November 21st which is a stroke of marketing genius. Each new track release has come with it’s own set of song-specific merchandise and each piece of merchandise bears the mysterious symbol that’s related to that song. The amount of work that has gone into water-falling this release and it’s tie-in merch is laudable and insanely effective.
Of course, the focus is on the music and this would all be for nought if the end product was mediocre at best. There is no such worry here - Sundowning is an incredibly well crafted album that takes the established Sleep Token formula (in a nutshell - beautifully melodic and ambient passages that build to down-tuned riffage) and not only refines this formula but also explores different aspects of their sound.
The biggest surprise on this album is how varied the more “metal” elements of their sound are dispatched. Tracks such as "Give", "Take Aim" and "Drag Me Under" forego heavy guitars altogether and instead utilise electronic beats, synths, acoustic guitar, electric piano and the always-goosebump inducing vocals of Vessel to create emotionally cathartic and majestic soundscapes. Other tracks like "Levitate" and "Blood Sport" use the down-tuned guitars to create a quiet/loud dynamic while "Higher" and "The Offering" are more typical of the Sleep Token we’ve become accustomed to, alternating between melodic elements and some truly heavy riffage. The biggest surprise is Gods which is the heaviest we’ve ever heard the band and proves that Vessel has a larger vocal range than we initially thought.
The vocals on this album are never less than top notch and utilise crooning, falsettos, breathy whispers and occasional screams to bring the emotional and cathartic elements to each song. Considering the very electronic sound of the majority of this album, Vessel’s soulful vocals keep the human element present across all twelve tracks and his is a voice that’s always a pleasure to listen to. Lyrically, the album explores different angles of lust, love, violence and spirituality and suggests that a lot of these concepts are intertwined. Even with the most beautiful songs, there is an undercurrent of darkness and mystery that’s very much a large part of the appeal to this band.
The only criticism I could level at this album is that there are several tracks here that rely heavily on the established formula initially introduced in their first two EPs. While they do this sound well, they don’t stand out as well as a song like Higher which messes with this formula and delivers a satisfyingly heavy breakdown at the end of the track. The album ends on a more subdued note where I feel a more explosive ending would have brought the goosebumps in spades.
These are minor grumbles though. Sundowning is an example of what can be done with marrying disparate elements together and further proves that genre boundaries are only imaginary. Mixing beauty and brutality is a well-established trope in the heavy world but Sleep Token prove that there’s new and exciting ways to explore this dichotomy, especially when it’s created this seamlessly and with this much heart.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Sundowning will be released 21st November Spinefarm Records and Caroline Australia.