Sleep Token is an enigma. Biding their time in the shadows of experimental metal no longer, 2023 all but shattered their ceiling of potential. Take Me Back to Eden’s second single, The Summoning, injected the band into mainstream lexicon- the tasteful blending of funk with blistering screams was altogether too much to resist. In spite of the tendency for viral surges to ignore substance, Sleep Token are as true to their founding formula as ever throughout the glorious conclusion to their trilogy of albums that began with 2019’s Sundowning. The four masked “Vessels” that comprise Sleep Token are unerringly committed to their specific brand of genre ambiguity and mystique, melding influences from R&B to black metal while sampling everywhere in between. Typically, this range of stylistic application could fall flat from trying to be too much. The force behind the vision, though, is the uniquely textured vocals and lyricism of their frontman (simply called Vessel). With such a versatile weapon of a voice at the helm and an incredibly articulate back-line of their drummer “II”, the mysterious quartet has the power to throw convention to the wind with uncanny precision. Their recent ascension is a perfect example that once you know the rules, you can break them and progress beyond. Sleep Token, at its heart, is a project compelled to be painfully honest for its own sake—and this record is a final exposé that springs forth from the emotional wounds of their prior works. Within this exploration, though, lies a wider call to submerge and feel the suffering lying in remission at the art’s core, on a personal and collective level. Raw, uncomfortable, and uncompromising—their mantra has had a hand in building a community that’s rapidly expanded beyond its progressive-djent origins. Vessel’s shocking degree of vulnerable candor drives the saga forward unto Eden: a profound reflection on a dark past whose resolution is still clearly in motion.
Sleep Token’s particular style of expanding a singular melody into a wall of sound that defies genre is at its best in … Eden. Across stylistic boundaries, under layers of complex synths and relentlessly punchy guitars, the heart of their formula still persists in the appreciation of the space in between the production. Producer Carl Brown brings every element of the sonic backdrop into crisp focus for this album, and this intention hits no sooner than the tastefully asymmetrical drop-in of “Chokehold.” Gritty synths create room for slithering vocals, and elusive melodies lift through the depths. These layers spawn an undulating mass of sound that hooks onto your subconscious and refuses to relent.
“The Summoning,” or “The Song That Broke The Internet,” is every bit as chaotic as the flood of reaction videos suggest. Though all the flashy genre pivots and gripping high screams are powerful in their own right, the subtlety and care hiding underneath the mix is truly what makes The Summoning special. The attention to detail in choreographed tonal shifts and nudges within the layers of synths act as a guide instead of pulling you haplessly along. For them, range doesn’t act as a paralytic– it gives them room to breathe, and each composition gives life to the space in distinctly different ways. Granite’s inexplicable meshing of R&B with hardcore-esque panic chords and Aqua Regia’s impressively lively piano arrangement keep a listener guessing- you can never truly know where this odyssey of a record will take you.
Machine gun kick drums dominate the mix on the raucous and lascivious black metal inspired Vore. When laid alongside each other, Aqua Regia and Vore are a perfect juxtaposition of Sleep Token’s capacity for both the violent and contemplative. A truly cavernous chorus drops listeners headlong from a falsetto, crooning into a deliciously heavy cacophony—one of the most daring transitions of their entire discography. As the screams subside, the first piano notes of Ascensionism pull you back into the melancholic home Sleep Token is known for. II’s synth drums and Vessel’s tastefully choppy vocal delivery create an angst-laden rap ambience which works ridiculously well. As the piano line progresses into a swirling, all-encompassing orchestra, it truly feels as if the track can submerge you entirely. Stylistic surprise is a weapon in Sleep Token’s arsenal that shouldn’t shock anyone at this point. The main piano line, simple on its own, persists through the majority of the track. Instead of going stale, an oscillation of synths and layers orbit theat central idea, giving a beautiful gravity to how it pairs with the vocal melody.
Time and time again, the duo of Vessel and II merge genres into pairings that work despite all odds. The Apparition traipses from a hauntingly minimalist skeleton to crackly, oversaturated synths so fluidly that one almost forgets the contrast on first listen. Melodic motifs draw themselves out from the aether in such memorable ways across TMBTE’s 63-minute runtime that the formula obfuscates itself, like missing the forest through the trees. The electronic elements shift comfortably into the driver’s seat, an unexpected stylistic choice, painting a story of redemption and growth with such a deliciously diverse palette. II particularly shines in the latter half of the track, as orchestra-worthy symphonics and phased-out vocals give a canvas for percussive flash that doesn’t feel the least bit indulgent.
Rain feels like a spiritual successor to Hypnosis from This Place Will Become Your Tomb. An unapologetically sensual and jarringly heavy track, it breaks from chugs into a tasty refrain that begs to be sung en masse. The intro melody hearkens back to the origin of Sleep Token as a whole, closely mirroring the opening chords of Fields of Elation in a fresh but instantly recognizable way. DYWTYLM and Are You Really OK? are slow burns which betray their emotional weight under a brighter complexion. If one thinks these two are simply safe bets for radio appeal, I’d suggest listening to the live version of the former track from the most recent Australian tour. It likely would provide a bit more context for their respective places on the record: under the sheen of clean synthpop sound palettes and crisp guitars lie a deceptive depth of pain.
The record’s title track, TMBTE, is an eight-minute behemoth that times its breaking points so well. Its duration is a strength, allowing enough space to let the weight of this tale’s conclusion steep to perfection. Sleep Token as a unit flits through varied sections with a calculated finesse, a near cinematic flow of crescendo to resolution that feeds into itself smoothly. Ambitious, post rock transience rides alongside razor-sharp critiques that call back to Vessel’s treatment in the music world, coming as close to his speaking voice as we’re probably going to get. All the melodic development and artisanship comes to a head with the most visceral, unhinged breakdown of their career—a fitting conclusion to the record as a standalone.
Euclid acts as a finale for the entire saga: absolutely stocked with prior motifs as Vessel traverses the memories held within the full discography. There is longing and candid reflection, but, for the first time, there seems to be hope in the familiar, cyclic conclusion. Revisiting the haunting second verse of The Night Does Not Belong to God in an unmistakably brighter presentation brings this saga to a gentle end just as it was born, but marked by the knowledge gained through the journey. To temper the potential bewilderment from this genre-bending masterwork, suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. Whatever the end of the Sundowning to Eden cycle means for Sleep Token, they have woven an incomparably intricate tapestry of love, loss, growth, and rebirth.