Are you prepared for another audio session with Sleep Token? Sure you are. Since their initial salvo of EPs whipped up a fever pitch of initial interest in 2016-2017, the band’s debut full-length Sundowning continued the masked band’s coalescence of metal, pop, R&B, and ambient soundscapes into something that defies easy categorization. Now the band is back with their sophomore album, This Place Will Become Your Tomb. Does it hold up to their previous work? That’s a question we answer below.
Author: Alex Sievers
The tricky thing about This Place Will Become Your Tomb is that it’s transitional. This second album is the masked collective simultaneously sticking to their beloved songwriting and structural formulae of their EPs and 2019’s stellar Sundowning LP, whilst also making a conscious effort to move away from being considered as only a “heavy” band. It’s a weird one, something that’s caught in limbo. Bigger in scope but definitely a little repetitive and a bit too familiar; it plots a course through (some) new waters but it’s also not as bold as the band was perhaps hoping for.
Again, it’s a weird one. Though Sleep Token are a weird band, so it tracks. While there’s nothing here as powerful as “Bloodsport,” as magical as “Dark Signs,” as violent as “Gods,” or as grim as “The Offering,” it absolutely has its moments. Fans of TesseracT and Deftones will find plenty to enjoy, as will those craving more sonic depth and musical variety from the band. Sleep Token obsessives who comment “Worship” on any and every post about them will swim in this album’s oceanic mass for the remainder of 2021. As for those who cannot stand their music? Well, they are unlikely to waver in that stance off the back of this new LP.
This is an album with doomsday visions in its mind of oceans receding, of underwater volcanoes exposed under the burning sun. These images and borderline-apocalypses are the core metaphor behind a relationship ending; the jarring dissonance that comes with a split; the dark places you go to afterwards. While there’s a new dressing to these lyrical concepts, it sometimes feels like the band are almost re-doing what Sundowning had to say. That record was already about Vessel’s former partner, already about that initial breakup. This album goes a little further, dealing with more of the aftermath and the longing and reminiscing that comes with that stage, as well as the hope for a new love to bloom. How you can get lost in a stage of deep regret, it threatening to become your tomb. (Boom, there it is!) Yet there’s more than just revelling in those depths: come second-last track, “High Water,” there’s an acceptance of that but also the will and the way to move forward.
However, the record sometimes strays out of the boundaries of acceptable levels of scorned love, yearning, and romanticism and encroaches on the creepy; to a level of entitlement to someone affection that’s kinda gross. “You will be mine” demands Vessel numerous times on “Mine,” in a very possessive manner. “With my love as your garden, won’t you fall for me?” he desperately pleads on “Fall For Me,” as if he’s the only one who can properly love this person. “Too many swallowed keys will make you bleed internally someday” is heard on one of the album standouts, “The Love You Want,” radiating that age-old but deeply shitty key-that-opens-many-locks analogy for love and sexual relationships. “And it still makes my blood run thin, to remember what you are to him” Vessel jealously sings through seemingly clenched teeth on Missing Limbs.
It’s not all bad, not all creepy, obviously. There’s plenty of honesty and maturity processed on this record in a heartfelt manner, but the album’s viewpoint is absolutely held back by these odd moments. Certain lyricism here enters a mindset that is emotional and sad but for the wrong reasons. If I was Vessel’s ex, and I heard some of these songs, some of the sentiments put forward, I’d feel weird and uneased about it all. This is a topic for another time, but the flaw with break-up records like This Place Will Become Your Tomb is that we as the listeners only get one perspective. Sometimes you get a situation like “Both To Blame,” a song off The Plot In You’s newest record, where their frontman clears the air, not placing sole blame on the other party. (You can hear The Weeknd say something similar on “Hardest To Love,” from his last album.) Vessel wants to vent and have you feel sad through this cathartic process, mostly sad for him and his love life predicament, but given some of the thoughts presented, it was sorta hard for me to feel much for the guy. This may not have been Vessel’s intention but that’s how it comes across.
Let’s get the album’s two blunders out of the way. These two particular songs don’t torpedo the album, but they do weigh it down somewhat, adding filler to a track-listing that didn’t need it.
First, there’s the sappy Fall For Me, the shortest song of the lot, which is a sole acapella piece about insecurities. This is Sleep Token aping Imogen Heap hardcore, with the same vocal effects, as everyone and their dog has already pointed out. (Doubt you’ll see this one dominate TikTok like Hide And Seek did.) As a mid-album palette cleanser, its okay, but not one I’ll return to individually; one I’ll be skipping whenever I revisit the record in full. What is basically a glorified harmony, if it had more guts to it than just a pretty vocal – if it was, y’know, an actual song – I could probably get into it. Sleep Token are an extremely vocal-focused band; the vocals inform everything else around them. But this is taking that idea to the extreme. It’s the usual Sleep Token but with all of the good shit excavated out, left desolate like a strip mined ocean floor.
“Missing Limbs” is unnecessary and a bad closing song, especially following what would’ve been the perfect send-off on “High Water.” I’m not saying “Missing Limbs” shouldn’t exist. I’m saying that maybe if it were saved as a bonus song, as per the stripped-down version of “Bloodsport” was for the deluxe re-release of Sundowning, that would service it better. An acoustic guitar is pulled out for this closer with a splattering of pianos not far behind. A metaphor of feeling a “phantom pain” after a breakup when you’re without that person, this finale is a low-key number about separation, disconnection, and is filled with some emotionally immature bitterness. No synths, no breakdowns, just an intimate but anticlimactic final track to conclude Sleep Token’s latest. Frankly, the group have done acoustic-orientated tracks better before: “Take Aim” stands taller than this. I’m also unsure if the rising, distorted radio wave sounds add anything the song’s outro. I suppose one could interpret it as a distress signal, as an SOS, but I think that’s giving this song WAY too much credit.
Let’s get down to brass tacks for the rest. I won’t bother you too much about the first singles, “Alkaline” and “The Love You Want.” The former was a solid if familiar Sleep Token song in instrumentation and structure, a safe first bet as the initial taste of this second LP. Whereas the second single saw the band sailing into fresh, bright blue waters. It was almost Sleep Token by way of The 1975, a satisfying and interesting synth-rock ballad that features everything that makes this band’s music work. So let’s get into where the tide comes in, on album opener “Atlantic.”
Embodying the albums aquatic and nautical aesthetic, “Atlantic” begins with a light piano accompaniment under Vessel’s melodramatic vocals. From that classic Sleep Token starting point, the atmosphere begins to build. It’s a ghostly and minimal piece at first, one that slowly but surely moves with a sudden sub-drop, the track’s mood and tone changing like a tectonic plate shift. Soon Vessel’s signature falsetto harmonies start to fly, the filtered synths begin to swell, and before long, a djenty but still melodic down-tuned, groove metal section kicks in – drums and guitars crashing through like a tidal wave – as Vessel re-sings the chorus. It’s a strong start!
“Hypnosis” opens with a watery riff motif and soon enough Sleep Token enact their highly polished, groove-orientated djenty sound. The dynamic drum work from II – his sweet cymbal stack and bell placements, plus the choice of accented ghost noted snare patterns – creates a fluttering pace alongside the drifting in-and-out bass. Vessel’s voice is precisely hypnotic. Singing about feeling like he’s trapped under another’s spell, and how this person knows that they do have that influence over him. The huge vocal production, the blending of multiple voices to act as an overwhelming chorus, acts like a hypnotic procedure. Luring you in before the aggro bass tone chews you up in its hungry jaws come 1:30. The second verse highlights the character of Vessel’s tonality and performance, how his over-acted little breaths and lisps are left in for full effect. The song’s breakdown is one of the bleakest and heaviest of the band’s career. Filthy riffs lay waste to all in their path as Vessel very briefly taps into his lower screaming register, as jumpy rhythms rock this boat harshly.
“Mine” is a big heel-turn for the record’s tone, perhaps too jarring a turn. A dark pop-ballad, it’s a cutesy song with keyboards that evoke their Two EP, chopping between two very different dynamics as things grow larger and heavier. The pitched-up chipmunk vocalisations may not be to everyone’s taste – I find them a little grating, personally – but I do respect how Sleep Token have decided to go big or go home with a lot of the choices on this album. They want to do as much as possible. Just like that new Turnstile album, sometimes the experiments really work and sometimes they don’t. Here with Sleep Token, their adventurous mindset is welcomed nonetheless.
“Trapped under the surface of your words” croons Vessel at the start of “Like That”, and that’s the song’s main feeling: being crushed under something, waiting to break free. Fluttering rhythmic synthesisers, bassy 808s and lo-fi percussion pump away, as the band ramp up the tension with live drums, descending key runs, and a distorted menacing voice. Rumbling low-end pounds on the songs interior walls, as the drums syncopate with furious guitars, following one another in head-bobbing syncopation, eventually ending on the strongest, weirdest heavier breaks heard from the band. It’s great stuff but I have to laugh at those corny whispers of “do you like that?” that appear throughout. If the band were trying to be sinister with that particular part’s inclusion throughout, then mission failed lads, get ‘em next time. A questionable addition to what was otherwise a very cool song.
Repeating, stabbing Rhodes keyboards start off “Distraction,” another piano-heavy piece for Sleep Token’s second album. (Which is fine, this band wields the piano as close to their chest as they do jazz drumming and proggy chugs.) A sublime minimal pop piece, “Distraction” is one of the better produced, slower-building tracks on offer. Fitting an electro-pop frame nicely with golden tones and cool little electronic details across the board, the way everything ebbs and flows recalls the first half of “Levitate.” This bad boy is irrefutable proof that Sleep Token nails heavy and non-heavy sounds as well as each other. When the strings and busy, half-time drums kick in as Vessel bellows a call of “it’s too late for me,” you’re left with one of their most arresting and melodically rich tracks to date.
“Descending” feels like you’re actually descending down the stairs into a Sleep Token owned club, like you’re heading deeper into that industrial setting from the ‘Alkaline’ video. It’s Trap Token. The thumping 808 kick drum pulse is foreboding, as are the low rumblings sitting on tracks peripheral. Vessel delivers a misgiving vocal tone on a register that he hasn’t really explored before. (The heavily-pitched vocals in after the intro did kill the mood a little.) Once the beat hits, with its ticking electronic hi-hats and freaky synths, everything becomes a seedy but slick club depresser with some admittedly questionable lyrics that’s difficult to tell how literal or metaphorical it is.
Giving us another high school chemistry lesson, we have “Telomeres,” named after the DNA sequences found at the end of chromosomes. Yet another piano-and-vocal lamentation, just when you’re about to find that crux exhausting, Sleep Token burst from the depths with a gorgeous, atmosphere-heavy explosion that seriously elevates the song. Notably, “Telomeres” carries some blatant 2010-2012 Deftones worship in both of its varying sections. (I love that band but do chuckle at the thought of someone who despises Deftones not being able to escape their long-reaching influence on newer artists.) There’s even a lightly distorted bluesy guitar solo, helping to push everything towards a big climax, and I really can’t imagine the song without it.
Here it is, the best fucking song on the album. “High Water” is quintessential Sleep Token, the kind that made me and so many others first take interest in their music. The vocal and synth melodies of this penultimate song move up and down together, like soft and calming waves, and the scenic rush when the effects-laden guitars and groovy drums open up their sails shortly afterwards is immense. Everything becomes a voyage of deep but palpable sadness and impressive musicianship. The climbing percussive fills and vocal melodies alike make this whole cut feel like an epic trip. While the band could’ve probably held this songs line of tension just a tiny bit longer, when the always-expected metal passage arrives with a jumpy, panicked harmonic flavour, it’s a glorious collage of sounds. So much so I don’t care how obligatory it is. This is a staggering tempest of feeling; a giant maelstrom of sound. What should’ve been the end for Sleep Token’s second LP, “High Water” is a reminder that even when some of their choices don’t pay off, when they do work, it’s brilliant.
This Place Will Become Your Tomb is out September 24th via Spinefarm Records.