Sleep Token are a puzzle shrouded in mystery wrapped in an enigma, or so the UK outfit would have you believe. The gimmick of anonymity is nothing new or even particularly noteworthy, but the cloaked, masked group really ride the fine line similar acts Gaerea and Mora Prokaza do by painting every visible inch of skin tar-black. To this day, this remains my one real (and let’s be honest, it’s a big one) criticism of the band. Because beyond the cringy pseudo-Thelemic social media persona that refers to attending concerts or buying merch as “completing rituals” and constantly invites you to “worship”, Sleep Token have truly been churning out some of the most interesting, genre-obfuscating stuff in recent memory.
Debuting in 2016, Sleep Token released a handful of singles and EPs (including a beautifully stark cover of Outkast‘s “Hey Ya”) introducing their trademark format: moody, piano-driven rock that builds and builds around vocalist Vessel’s soulful whine before erupting into a crescendo of cathartic, downtuned post-djent. I’ve always said that Sleep Token is just a British indie pop band masquerading (literally) as a metal band, and their output continues to back that claim. It’s fun to phrase it as a riddle, which I’m sure the band themselves would appreciate: what do Coldplay, The 1975, and Tesseract have in common? They’re likely Sleep Token’s three biggest inspirations, alongside Deftones, whose influence has become exceedingly clear on sophomore album This Place Will Become Your Tomb.
2019’s debut full length Sundowning really expanded upon what was initially a fairly stripped-back sound, adding layers of electronics and ambience to smooth out the rough edges. This Place… goes even further, studding almost every single track with some sort of sequence or vocal effect in exploration of how far their signature sound can stretch. The textures are lush and grimy, injecting the album with a bit of that dark magic they claim to carry. Even considering they’re still not really deviating from the formula they set five years ago, the songwriting has gotten a facelift in the form of complexity. Faux-EDM leads, trip-hoppy grooves, and Vessel’s Bastille runs and adlibs, along with the added electro textures and vocal filters, create a vibrant soundscape that betray further influences like Imogen Heap and Puscifer, especially on tracks “Fall For Me” and “Descending”.
Lead single “Alkaline” is classic Sleep Token, progressing along sweetly to a big, heavy finish, even harkening back to their earliest releases with the inclusion of a digital harpsichord. “The Love You Want” is the real winner though, showcasing Sleep Token delivering on their theme with grand precision. And while their presence can be felt throughout, Deftones make an uncanny appearance in “Telomeres” as the lead vocal melody almost perfectly mimics “Be Quiet and Drive”, with an added (and rare) guitar solo at the end that might have easily been written by Mike Einziger of Incubus. Album finale “Missing Limbs” too might sound familiar to the casual listener, with Vessel doing his best Ed Sheeran impression and absolutely selling the performance. The list of likely influences continues on in much the same manner and becomes an even bigger exercise in futility, because at the end of the day, Sleep Token just sound like the best parts of your favorite guilty pleasures.
That’s the real gimmick. It’s not the menacing, mystical pageantry. It’s not that initial bait and switch inflicted on the unsuspecting listener. It’s getting to sing along to your favorite karaoke-ready brit pop rock ballads with none of the guilt, because like, they’re actually grim and heavy, wink wink. Strangely though, This Place Will Become Your Tomb feels more like an exploratory adventure, each track a different mission to discover which specific sounds serve to elevate their central concept. I imagine a lot of what we hear on this record will end up polished and refined into something extraordinary come time for LP3. Ultimately, I still believe Sundowning is their better album, but This Place Will Become Your Tomb is as strong of a follow-up as we could have hoped for and a damn fine entry in their canon.
This Place Will Become Your Tomb releases September 24th via Spinefarm Records.