After a quiet 5 years, German progressive metal outfit The Sleeper have finally provided a follow-up to their debut 2013 album, Aurora. The band’s newest effort is a 6 track EP titled Apparatus, and it marks a significant change in the project’s sound. Aurora felt like a release that was pulling in two different directions. On the one hand it offered a very aggressive approach to melodic metalcore; replete with blastbeats, dissonant chugs and emotional choruses. On the other, it utilized the characteristic percussive rhythms, frenzied atonal riffing, and spacy atmospherics of djent. This tonal dichotomy is attributable to the line-up change that occurred in the year leading up to the record’s release. New additions on bass and guitar pushed the band in a more progressive and djent-inspired direction, and this is evident in the way the band has evolved on Apparatus.
The new EP leans very heavily on a riff-fuelled djent approach, and only contains subtle hints of the band’s melodic metalcore roots in the vocals and chuggier sections of the record. Impressively technical, groove-heavy riffs now abound, and are infused with soaring atmospherics, dense chords and mandatory plinky-plonky sitar-style ambient guitars. Indeed, for the most part, the style showcased on Apparatus will sound very familiar to fans of bands like The Contortionist or Monuments. This is true of both content and tone, as the record was in fact mixed and mastered by John Browne (of Monuments, Flux Conduct and Fellsilent). Browne’s production gives the record a crisp, polished sound that contrasts nicely with the grittier, raspy screamed vocals that dominate Apparatus.
“Inertia Spiral” has been released as the main single in support of the EP and it’s easy to see why. It’s probably the most upbeat and energetic song on the release, and combines technical riffage with powerful grooves and a memorable chorus. However, it also feels like an unfortunate choice in that it is one of the least original songs the band has to offer. Apart from the tone of the vocals, the entire song sounds like it could have been lifted off a Monuments release, and this is obviously not helped by Browne’s signature production style. Indeed, many of the djentier moments on this EP more generally suffer from a bit of an identity-crisis, as although there is no denying their impressive groove and riffsmanship, The Sleeper seem to have difficulty writing parts in this style that are uniquely their own.
Fortunately, most of the other songs on Apparatus do manage to integrate more original or interesting sounds into the mix. Melodic metalcore influences are still present throughout the EP, and “Synthetic Gospel” incorporates Sumeriancore elements in the vein of After the Burial or Veil of Maya. On the latter track, tight, intricately chugged guitars sporadically break out into intriguing chord progressions and are interspersed with shameless open-string percussive djenting. As tracks progress, rapid-fire ambient tapping riffs often enter the melee, and every song utilizes a satisfying variety of parts which avoid the monotonality that some of The Sleeper’s peers suffer from. Additionally, tracks like “The God of Suffocation” evoke post-metal atmospherics and utilize extra instrumentation such as piano and violins, while “Glass Eater” and “Engineer” include passages which showcase the band’s slower, more reflective progressive influences, and provide a welcome respite from the pervasive heaviness of the EP.
There’s a lot to enjoy on Apparatus and The Sleeper are a band with a tonne of potential. It’s clear that this EP represents a significant change of style for the group and as such their initial steps have been understandably tentative. However, by playing it safe some of the EP comes across as harping the sounds of the band’s contemporaries. If The Sleeper can develop the confidence and self-awareness to more prominently focus on their unique elements and develop their own voice they have a very promising future. It’s certainly difficult to criticise the quality of the riffs and overall musicianship on this release and it constitutes a worthwhile listen for most djent and progressive metal fans.
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Apparatus is available 1/26 and can be purchased through Bandcamp.