When my dad was growing up, the only way you could see a musical artist was through whatever they showed of themselves on their album artwork, or when you might have chanced to see them perform live (which was pretty rare, considering his northern Canadian locale). Fast forward a few decades, and I can send friend requests to the artists who inspire me and see the selfies they post to Facebook. Anonymity is so elusive now, and thus even more enticing. UK-based Sleep Token embrace this idea; their masks and esoteric online personas are certainly intriguing. However, this somewhat gimmicky approach would mean little if their music wasn’t engaging. The group has returned with their second EP in just over half a year. Two will be available on July 21 via Basick Records.
Sleep Token immediately captured my interest on One with the stark contrast of flawless, dulcet vocals and heavy grooves. Though such juxtapositions are commonplace in modern progressive metal, I feel confident in saying that no other group in the community develops their softer moments to the extent that Sleep Token does. “Calcutta” opens with lo-fi keyboards and the absolutely stunning vocals that caught my ears from my first listen to this band. Where One’s quiet sections were comparatively minimalist, “Calcutta” shows Two developing greater vocal layering, catchy melodies, sparse percussion and a broader scope of synths to fill the sonic spectrum. Of course, the Deftones-esque low-tuned grooves intersperse the soft soundscapes. With the incorporation of more percussion, these dynamic shifts transition considerably smoother than on One.
Continuing with the Biblical location title theme, “Nazareth” melds lightly distorted electric piano, Bon Iver/Bastille-like vocals and digital swells for a sound that is considerably warmer and more dense than Sleep Token‘s prior material. A consistent drum beat in the second verse and building bass in the second chorus provide a sense of tension and expectation that makes the song’s heavy climax feel more natural than on other Sleep Token tracks.
Where the heavy elements of Sleep Token’s sound are generally instrumental, we hear vocals over some of these parts on the three-track EP’s closing “Jericho”. Alongside a titillating hook (‘You taste like new flesh’), the vocalist introduces a soulful, gritty edge to his voice at about three minutes into the song, which is a departure from his typically gentle delivery. String samples are also worked in throughout the number, adding more hues to the group’s expanding sonic palette.
Both the songs on One and Two follow similar patterns: keys and vocals build to a mid-tempo groove before the softer elements return, transitioning into a heavier half-time breakdown as the song fades. Where One’s production and approach was relatively minimalist and jarring, Two finds the group incorporating a wider variety of synths, percussion and vocal approaches into their sound, along with a smoother sense of transition. This augmentation benefits Two greatly, and the EP’s three tracks may be the most beautiful and entrancing songs I’ve heard this year. Unfortunately, this does not mean that they are not predictable. I do not believe that an album’s worth of songs with such repetitive structures would be engaging, and thus Sleep Token benefits from limiting their releases thus far to three tracks. Regardless, with one of my favorite vocalists in modern metal, and a sound that, though repetitive, sets them apart from all of their peers, Sleep Token’s Two will likely be one of my favorite releases this year.
Notable Tracks: “Nazareth”
FFO: Bon Iver, Bastille, Deftones