EP review: Sleep Token – Two
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It’s amazingly difficult to know where to begin when discussing Sleep Token. While many reviewers like to open discussions of new bands by likening them to other, larger acts that the audience is probably more familiar with, that’s something of an impossibility here: this enigmatic rock n’ roll project is an entirely unique entity. What can be said about Sleep Token, however, is that it is a venture that thrives in blending progressive metal with modern pop. It has one EP to its name (2016’s ingenious One), with a second, Two, set to drop on 21st July via Basick Records. Beyond that, all is a mystery. The band have never performed live, their member(s) have never been revealed or even named and their only visual element whatsoever is a masked front-man known only as “Vessel”. All that is known about Sleep Token has been communicated through their dulcet, avant-garde tunes. And, aurally, this project has the potential to be one of the defining rock bands of the year, seeping through the same cracks that have birthed success for the likes of the equally post-modern Zeal & Ardor and RIVIẼRE in recent months. Like all great musical experiences, Two delivers a post-modern punch early on, opening by stomping its best foot forward with ‘Calcutta’. A seven-minute opus, it sets the precedent for the rest of the EP set to follow in its wake by laying out piano-driven pop that blends seamlessly into polyrhythmic, low-tuned, destructive metal. The vocals in the track’s quieter moments are especially delightful, complementing the simplistic instrumentation with drawn-out, high-pitched harmonies that inherently conjure forth angelic imagery. The song slowly builds from an opening isolated clean guitar through its gradual additions of percussion, bass and piano before its descent into a Meshuggah-esque brutality. But even as ‘Calcutta’ transforms into a wholehearted metal riff, it continues its use of piano and calm vocalisation to prevent the experience from becoming one that feels tone-deaf or schizophrenic. It is both unpredictable and fluid simultaneously. ‘Nazareth’ follows suit, matching the beauty of its predecessor but also feeling more straight-forward. There’s less of a notable “build-up” than in ‘Calcutta’, using both piano and percussion from very early on, letting the latter instrument along with the vocals take over entirely before bringing the visceral metal into full swing. However, while the guitars dominated ‘Calcutta’’s heavy moments, the piano still keeps itself in firm charge on ‘Nazareth’, continually refusing to become mere window-dressing. ‘Jericho’ closes out Two by starting with a surprisingly jazz-inspired tone from the keys. The vocals are, once again, stunning, this time also finding the opportunity to become slightly more powerful, fitting in better with the heavy riffs as they inevitably take over mid-way through. ‘Jericho’, then, cements the singing’s status as a true, constant highlight of the entire EP. The track also spends the first half of its run-time as purely just vocals and piano, lacking the same foreboding of the rest of the EP’s more tranquil moments to generate a more untainted and wholly relaxing feeling. Through these three tracks, each of which balance the heavy/soft dichotomy between pop and metal in alternatingly beautiful ways, Two becomes an EP that could very easily satisfy fans of both rowdy and calming music. While metalheads will find solace in the dark, progressive riffs and cryptic imagery, pop fans will appreciate Two’s calming nature, idyllic clean singing and sombre keyboards. The two styles are bridged so expertly and gradually that neither party should find anything off-putting or out of their comfort zone. With Two, Sleep Token have perfected their niche style and will doubtlessly see great things coming their way for the rest of this year, provided they can craft a live show that fully captures the brilliance of both this EP and the earlier One. In the words of this deliciously peculiar act itself, all that can be done now is for fans to patiently sit back and “praise Him”. Two will be available via Basick Records on 21st July.