Even If you’ve only been a casual observer of underground music in recent times, chances are the name Sleep Token has come across your radar.
The UK-based, masked djent-pop collective made serious waves in 2019 with the release of their debut LP Sundowning – an existential rager that careened between thunderous breakdowns and frosty R&B numbers that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Lil Nas X LP.
To be fair, a gothed-up anonymous group of Brits slumming it onstage with the likes of Issues and Polyphia and firing the odd metalcore assault in their arsenal certainly doesn’t seem typically new in 2021, with every hyped heavy act seemingly possessing the industry starter pack of occult imagery, capes, and sweet sweet photoshop skills for that tip-top Insta wall.
When it comes to Sleep Token however, there are certain aces up their robes that comfortably make them one of the most fascinating emerging acts of the ’20s.
With sophomore LP This Place Will Become Your Tomb dropping on Friday, via Universal imprint Spinefarm Records no less, here’s everything you should know about the mysterious sleep-revering riff lords, and why they’re one of the actual best-kept secrets of the alternative underground. As Sleep Token fans say: Worship.
WHO ARE THEY?
No one knows – and that’s pretty bloody exciting for a band that, only two albums into their career, have been turning heads on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to the odd headline slot on a festival side-stage. There has been feirce debate over who makes up the band, with most Reddit threads dedicated to speculating the identity frontman and main songwriter, ‘Vessel’.
With his combination of soulful crooning, infectiously catchy melodies and the occasional guttural shriek, Vessel has emerged as one of the most diverse vocalists of modern alternative music – and people are desperate to work out who it might be.
Theories have ranged from Bastille frontman Dan Smith, to Hozier, Jordan Hunt and even Sam Smith. Ultimately though the band has been tight lipped about Vessel’s (and the rest of the band’s) identity. With next to no interviews existing (and the ones that do are extremely guarded), and Vessel even going so far as to smear himself with charcoal paint to prevent any identifiable body markings giving him up, Sleep Token have channeled Slipknot circa 99’ identity preservation.
Many heavy and alternative purists would squirm at the above mention of bona-fide pop stars potentially fronting hyped new projects. But the music, as the saying goes, truly does speak for itself – trap beats be damned.
WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?
2021 has seen some absolute doozy releases from the likes of Architects, Jinjer, Spiritbox and While She Sleeps. While these acts are certainly exciting torchbearers for heavy music in the new decade, there’s no denying a certain air of familiarity that exists around said acts’ musical output – for better or worse.
Of course, if (for example) Architects’ most recent album For Those Who Wish To Exist is everything you ever wanted by way of big anthemic sing-a-longs, simple and satisfying breakdowns and larger-than-life sonic textures (Big Sky is surely the most coveted pedal by shred lords the world over), then right now is one hell of an exciting time to be downloading the next digi-issue of Kerrang!
However, if it’s daring and experimentation you’re after – and by experimental, we mean slickly produced, painstakingly crafted pop hooks and sensibilities, minus the absolute diva bullshit indulged in by the usual 2021 chart-toppers, mashed together with tech metal foundations – then the forthcoming This Place Will Become Your Tomb LP could well be your album of the year.
With many heavy acts in 2021 (excluding the namechecked above) overlooking the importance of the hook (looking at you Between The Buried and Me) Sleep Token not only possess the radio-worthy choruses by the bucket-load, but they present them with production that sounds like Northlane’s Alien one minute, and the glitchy minimalism of Billie Eilish on When We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? the next.
It’s music from the future, fused with aggression, bleakness and – occasionally – optimism, in startling proportions. Top that off with Vessel’s hypnotising sermons and you have an act that simultaneously exudes genuine menace and beauty at once, whilst possessing crossover appeal akin to Bring Me The Horizon and Linkin Park.
SO WHERE DO YOU START?
Despite having a new album in the world, you could do a lot worse than the one-two opening combo of ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ and ‘The Offering’ from the brilliant Sundowning. A deeply conceptual album (released one song at a time every 14 days at sundown, Greenwich Mean Time), Sleep Token’s debut kept new listeners guessing every step of the way.
‘The Night Does Not Belong’ exemplifies their knack for vast electronic soundscapes and glitchy musical rabbit holes, before ‘The Offering’ kicks down the door with their more aggressive tendencies, dropping one of the filthiest breakdowns of the modern era in the process. From there, journey into the realm of This Place Will Become Your Tomb, a natural extension of the concepts birthed on Sundowning, albeit with a more dynamic (if possible) focus.
For the initiated, Tomb takes the grey pastiche of Sundowning and splashes it with colour across 12 tracks that each possess frighteningly addictive earworms, executed with unbelievable precision and care. Those who are new to the cult of Sleep Token however, can prepare to experience one of the most cutting edge contemporary bands, with songs to please everyone ranging from Veil of Maya faithful to Bon Iver lovers across their small but impressive discography.
While countless magazines will point to safe, mosh friendly groups as the future of heavy music, you’d be hard pressed to find an act that can be both as heavy as Sleep Token when they’re firing, or as destructively desolate, seemingly on a whim – and that makes them bloody exciting. 2021 has already been a stellar year for heavy music – but as far as art that pushes the underground forward goes, Sleep Token might be making a late play for the gold medal – and by God it’s worth checking out.
This Place Will Become Your Tomb is out Friday, September 24th via Spinefarm
Click here to pre-order and/or pre-save it