21st July 2017 – Basick Records
It was less than a year ago that, as if from a dream, the music of Sleep Token crept into our world wreathed in mystery, secrecy, and big black cloaks. With identities thus far undisclosed, the haunting voice of frontman ‘Vessel’ has been attributed to names ranging from Dallas Green to Sam Smith – but whatever the truth, the anonymous collective’s influence has grown like a deep breath of air on drowning lungs; for those who get it, they really get it. The part indie folk, part big-payoff ambient metal combination – recalling the likes of Bon Iver on one side and Deftones on the other – is on the surface a relatively simple formula, but its execution adds weight beyond measure; wrapping the package in ceremony and obfuscation sets a level of showmanship before the band have even stepped onto a stage together.
Just over half a year since debut ‘ritual’ One, Sleep Token are back with a second trio of tunes, unfussily titled Two. Named after three ancient cities, these songs add a vibrant second layer of dichotomy to the music explored on the previous record. Compared to One, Two‘s sonic palette is for the most part brighter; right from the opening bars of “Calcutta“, there’s a more radiant tone, carried by the choice of instrumentation and complemented by Vessel’s alarmingly beautiful vocal. Continuing within the established songwriting pattern, each track’s latter segment focuses on crashing waves of thunderous, driving guitars. The contrast is even more pronounced than before, and so when the absolute gut-punch of, say, “Nazareth” drops about half-way through, it’s almost tangible enough to bring back your lunch.
Furthermore, for all the sweetness of Vessel’s voice, the EP’s lyrical content is just as savage. A large portion of the allure of Sleep Token’s craft is in this deeply vivid lyrical imagery, and as you might expect from a group that purports influence from a deity of slumber, there’s a chimerical quality to the dangerously obsessive snapshots of destructive infatuation; I don’t think anyone needs to be shown “what a hollow-point does to a naked body” but the imagery is powerful, and the method of delivery makes it all the more potent.
Two is a triumph, blending passionate, emotive songwriting with stark and powerfully contrasting musical styles. With six original and compelling rituals now fulfilled, the prospect of what comes next from Sleep Token is thrilling. The base template has been thoroughly explored, and there’s some exciting space to be probed on future releases. Here’s hoping Vessel & co. are brave enough to step beyond the comfort of their now established sound and deliver on their massive promise.