This felt different. In front of a sold-out Islington Assembly Hall, this seemed like an announcement. A declaration that a new band has arrived and is ready to take centre stage. Pioneers intent on moving the goalposts and pushing a genre deeper into creativity and experimentation.
Full to its 800 capacity, the Hall encompassed the usual sights and sounds of any metal gig. But Sleep Token are not any metal band, in fact, to call them metal at all is to do them a disservice because they are so much more than that. With synths, keyboards, harmonising backing vocals, and haunting, clean singalong lyrics, Sleep Token are blurring the lines of genres and pushing the boundaries of what it means to be heavy.
Dubbed a “musical mystery” by website The Circle Pit, “contemporary indie pop, tech-metal and post-rock” by California’s Riff Magazine, and a “unique mix of technical metal and expansive indie soundscapes” by Metal Hammer, Sleep Token are everything and nothing that you expect them to be. Their music will have you banging your head emphatically one minute and listening forlornly the next.
Little is known about the masked collective and that seems to be the way they like it. Their previous interviews talk only of the mythical deity known as Sleep, who they are said to worship, and they give little away in their live performances either.
Bedecked in hooded black gowns, adorning masks and dark body paint, their identity is as much a mystery as their genre. There were no introductions on stage, no pretence and masquerade. Not a single uttering of “this next song is called”, not a whisper of “it’s great to be here London”. Sleep Token let their performance do the talking, ensuring that the focus is on the art rather than the people.
And their art is being crafted with a flourish. For a band that have only one full album to their name, they are already carving out a wholly unique and unmistakable sound. Not in the depths of YouTube or the vaults of Spotify will you find something that is quite as distinctive and accessible as this. The vocals wouldn’t be out of place on a mainstream radio station, but the riffs and the drumming is as searing as anything you would hear at Download, Bloodstock or ArcTanGent.
Already Sleep Token are developing a somewhat cult following. A brood of 20 and 30-something-year-old followers who throw every lyric back at the stage during the performance, who tear into circle pits at the breakdown, and who fill the venue with a passion and energy that is rarely seen in response to a band so early on their path to stardom. For that is where they seem destined to be headed. This may be the first you have heard of them, but I can assure you it won’t be the last.
Early teething problems are to be expected for a band so young and though some songs fell a little flat on the audience, with time these will be ironed out of the live performances. Just two years and three months since they made their live debut, Sleep Token already look comfortable choreographing the masses. The enigmatic lead singer, known as Vessel, glides across the stage cradling the microphone as he overseas his flock.
For those already baptised and welcomed, last night’s performance was less a concert and more a communion. The crowd eager to play a role in the growing legend of the secretive collective. Religious iconography was everywhere, from the crucifixion-like poses of Vessel to the mythical band members enveloped in black robes and covered by masks inscribed with runes. Songs titled “Nazareth”, “Jericho” and “The Offering” reinforce the feeling that this is less a band and more a religious movement. Lyrics echo a similar mood “and I wake saying your name” rings one, “will you levitate, up where the angels inhabit” soars another.
Perhaps it is this religious element that can give us a clue to the identity of the singer and his anonymous companions. Was his a religious upbringing? In a past life was he a leading voice in a church choir? His voice is certainly angelic, but any further speculation from this author would only fuel the ongoing debates online attempting to discover who the masked protagonist may be. Debates which on more than one occasion have likened him to Bastille’s Dan Smith.
Whatever his identity, his talent is undoubted. Equally adept playing the keys as he is traversing the wide range of his vocals, this metallic project which he has birthed promises much. North America and the UK have already sampled the atmospheric delights, but I hope, and expect, that this is just the start of something much greater.
Sleep Token have arrived. Worship.
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