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Album review: Sleep Token – Sundowning

Sleep Token – where to start? This band has so much going on. First of all, there is the fact that no one knows who is in the band, only that they are masked enigmas lead by vocalist Vessel. Second, they worship a deity whose name is roughly translated to ‘Sleep’ and they announce new albums or shows as ‘worship’. Then there is how they have released this album, calling it a waterfall release and giving the world a new song every couple of weeks since June. Next week the last song will be released and the “cycle will be complete”. Finally, there is Sleep Token’s sound, which is a mix between something reminiscent of Sigur Ross with a splash of EDM and incredibly heavy black metal moments. Somehow the band makes this work well and manages not to be gimmicky. The strange blend of influences come together to create something beautiful, menacing at times, and unique. Listeners will find that this is nothing like anything they have heard before.

The album starts minimally and peacefully with The Night Does Not Belong To God, which gives an early introduction to the rich, round timbre of Vessel’s vocals. This song does not pick up until nearly two minutes in, and it is an excellent example of the softer side of this record. It sounds like something that would not be entirely out of place as a softer song in an EDM set.

This album is full of contrasts and opposites, and song two, The Offering, shows this early on. Starting with menacing notes and bursting into heavy guitars, this song showcases the heavier side at first but flips back and forward between this and beautiful harmonies. Three-and-a-half minutes in, jarring, aggressive electronics are heard, and while the entire album switches and changes, this song also does it several times just on its own.

In yet another complete contrast, next up is Levitate, which is slow and soulful and shows just how beautiful Vessel’s voice is. The voice is so familiar, yet the post-production vibrato that is added (perhaps to help disguise such a unique voice) makes it sound otherworldly. This song builds nicely, and where some of Sleep Token’s songs can seem sad and pained, this song has a more hopeful feeling. That is until four minutes in when it all falls apart. About the song, the band say: “You were the bad guy in their story, but that part of their story is now over. The intense pain of realising someone you love does not need you anymore.” This is a perfect description of the mood and feeling that comes from the hopeful beginning followed by the messy end.

There are many highlights on this album, and it is hard to pinpoint just a few. Much of this comes from the fact that this album is not merely a collection of songs thrown together but a carefully constructed composition. Each song plays off the other even if it is different in every way from the song before. In saying this, a huge highlight is the song Higher, in which Vessel’s powerful vocals are heard straight away. This song has a huge build up, ‘call to action, lets march in the revolution’ type drums, menacing whispers that building to screams and grungy, heavy instruments.

Another highlight and possible favourite comes from Gods, which is a metal song from the second it starts. The songs before, Take Aim and Give, are beautiful and ambient, and when Gods starts up, the listener will almost feel like they have accidentally changed to another band. There is a break of softer prettiness, but this does not last for long, and it erupts back into metal quickly. This song is one of the shorter songs on the album, but it packs a punch.

This album will make the listener raise their eyebrows several times and Sugar is a song that will do just that. For want of better words, this song is slinky and sexy. The vocals are sickeningly sweet, creepy and unnerving at times. The visualiser on YouTube shows images of a female, emphasising her lips, legs and skin playing on the sultry vibe of the song. This song conjures images of a scene full of incredibly good-looking people doing questionable things.    

This album will render listeners speechless at times and leave them in awe. It is difficult to find any negatives, but if pushed for one, it could be that metal lovers will want more of the heaviness this band can achieve. While the ambient, beautiful, otherworldly sounds are incredible, the heaviness is so dark, dense and consuming, and more of it would not go astray.

The band explain that Sundowning is:“A neurological phenomenon associated with increased confusion and restlessness in patients with delirium or some form of dementia. The term ‘sundowning’ was coined due to the timing of the patient’s confusion. For patients with sundowning syndrome, a multitude of behavioural problems begin to occur in the evening or while the sun is setting.” This album encapsulates that phenomenon so well. Some of the songs have the kind of binaural, low-fi beats that could be played to patients to aid relaxation and calm. The beautiful calm songs could be interpreted as sundowner suffers’ happy times, and the dark, heavy songs sound like they signify the behavioural issues, confusion, anger and pain that come from the disorder.

‘Sundowning’ is a must for people who enjoy an album in full and can appreciate songs for their composition and intricacies. It is also a must for people who like good music in general. It should be listened to in a way that allows the listener to be engulfed by it completely and hopefully they won’t get too obsessed with trying to work out who Vessel is. Worship.

★★★★✩

Sundowning is out November 22 via Napalm Records.

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