After a long wait, the release of various EPs and singles, on top of speculation as to who the identity behind their anonymous leader Vessel is, ‘Sundowning’, the debut album from everyone’s new favourite masked worship leaders Sleep Token, has finally arrived.
Will it justify the hype, or will they be exposed as false prophets?
Taking influence from alternative pop that isn’t a million miles away from the likes of Bon Iver, while simultaneously reaching for Meshuggah and TesseracT inspired heaviness, expectations from fans will certainly be high.
‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ starts off the record, and early on there’s a wide range of sounds that this record draws from. Even if it’s a bit on the repetitive side lyrically, there’s plenty of depth on display musically. The softer piano-led sections, notably on display in ‘The Offering’, can sometimes get a bit close to the mushy side of the things, but more often than not they’re pulled off well.
‘Dark Signs’ is driven by a multitude of sounds and trap beats, and it’s very welcome to hear an incorporation of this sound that sits over things nicely and doesn’t feel jarring. ‘Higher’ is a little heavier, and comes with some screamed vocals to help bring the energy levels up.
As alluded to earlier, most of the ballad-like moments tread fine lines, but ‘Take Aim’ features a very strong vocal performance and some harmonies that really lift the chorus. ‘Give’ is also an unexpected highlight, which is relatively sparse in terms of production, but this is one of the most impactful songs on the record.
And then ‘Gods’ suddenly comes roaring out of the traps, with a gnarly low-end riff and a screamed vocal intro. Even if it may provide whiplash for some, this is a very welcome moment on the record, and when the piano comes in, it still feels fluid.
‘Sugar’ is another highlight, and probably the most dexterous showcase of what they can offer. Led by a harp riff and lifted by the most memorable chorus on the album, it then builds up to great effect.
When Sleep Token get it right, the peaks are undoubtedly high. The only real gripe is that some songs are simply too long and at times meander a little bit, meaning it takes a long time to reach these peaks. ‘Say That You Will’ is a little non-descript, and you’re waiting for ‘Drag Me Under’ to build into something but it doesn’t go anywhere. Perhaps honing in more on the heavier aspects next time around may make for a more striking listen.
Yet, thankfully, ‘Blood Sport’ is a much better choice of cut to close the album out. Another strong vocal hook from Vessel keeps us intrigued, and it’s testament that they can provide emotionally poignant moments like this when parts of the way they operate could be perceived as a gimmick by many.
‘Sundowning’ isn’t without dents in its armour, but it’s a fluid and eclectic debut album that should keep Sleep Token on peoples’ lips, and their devotees in worship.