Sleep Token has certainly put a lot of work into its image. The social media campaign for This Place Will Become Your Tomb has been shrouded in mystery. Apparently, the faceless, nameless collective worships an ancient deity named Sleep who sends visions to the lead singer, known as Vessel. It’s an okay premise, similar to Ghost’s debut a decade ago. That’s not where the similarities stop, but Sleep Token is unique enough to carve out their own identity. This is no throwback or worship act. It’s a modern twist on the gothic formula.
Vessel has the perfect goth voice. His baritone crooning ranges from HIM to Nick Cave, always deep in the gut and dying for some blackened eyeshadow. The music around him is much more experimental. Programmed beats, creepy piano, a couple of tasty guitar grooves, and enough synth to seriously bring the ‘metal’ label into question. When they don’t sound like unreleased Nine Inch Nails, Sleep Token drops into the straight pop zone. It might take some very open-minded metalheads to get on board with this.
Lead single “Alkaline” is the highlight of the record. After a long intro, it drops into a heavy industrial groove that will certainly get audiences moving. The vocals sit nicely against a backdrop of echoes and cascading synth. “Hypnosis” gets fancy with the production, turning another groove into a wall-of-sound. The distorted chanting suits the aesthetic the whole band seems to be going for. It’s something that repeats itself on “Mine” and “Like That”. There was potential for some kind of gothic Deftones mashup happening.
Unfortunately, the bad songs start to outweigh the good. For all their posturing, Sleep Token often seems like they want to be mainstream stars. There’s no other explanation for a song like “Fall For Me”, an acapella exercise in autotune that sounds closer to Drake than anything heavy. “Distraction” could easily be by Imagine Dragons. It’s a bold move to try and hit both audiences at once. But it’s doubtful that many metalheads will enjoy Sleep Token’s attempt.
There’s a nagging sense that Vessel thinks his voice is much more powerful than it is. It works best when drowned in reverb, adding another layer to the instrumentation or as a creepy chanting backdrop. Whenever he goes all out and channels new Mumford and Sons the way he does on “The Love You Want”, it’s almost cringe-inducing.
Imagery is important in metal. It has lifted up many mediocre acts and raised them to the status of gods. But imagery has to be consistent. Kiss just keep singing about rock n’ roll. Ghost can’t get Satan out of their heads. Slipknot dedicates themselves to chaos and Gwar are so outlandish it forces us to laugh. Sleep Token’s image is totally at odds with what they sound like. It could be interpreted as a statement about modern metal and the social media age, but that’s giving it too much credit. More likely, they wanted to snag some metal cred before releasing a pop album.
Vessel and company cast out a wide new on their sophomore album. This Place Will Become Your Tomb doesn’t have the same post-rock sheen 2019’s Sundowning had. We would give half of what’s on this record for one of two more songs that sound like “Gods” or “The Offering”.
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