“There’s a new era coming”: We interviewed the artist who made Sleep Token’s incredible new masks

Sleep Token's instrumentalists wearing their new masks in 2023
(Image credit: Adam Rossi via ii_sleeptoken/iii_sleeptoken/iv_sleeptoken/Instagram)

Sleep Token’s headline set at Wembley Arena on December 16 became one of the most anticipated shows of the year the moment it sold out in 10 minutes. Then, when the extravaganza finally happened, it became one of the most talked about. Not only did the masked cult’s frontman, Vessel, unfortunately lose his voice for three songs; the musicians around him – drummer II, bassist III and guitarist IV – debuted new, astonishing masks.

The magnificent and nu metal-esque sculpts were by 21-year-old London artist Lani Hernandez-David. And, frankly, he did a remarkable job. To learn more about the masks, the person that made them and the future of the band, we sat down with Lani for a revelatory interview.

Metal Hammer line break

How did you get onto Sleep Token’s radar?

“My first time ever hearing of them was my friend going, ‘We should go see Sleep Token,’ at [UK metal festival] Bloodstock last year. Then, it must have been late October [2023], I got a message from II, like, ‘Hey man, love your stuff. We want to get some things made. Are you up for it?’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is big!’ I’ve always wanted to make masks for a fairly established band, but I don’t know why I never thought of Sleep Token.”

What was the process when making the masks?

“When I got the message in October, I was just about to go to America. They were like, ‘We need these masks by December 2,’ and I’d be coming back from America on October 28. I’d have a month to do everything and I couldn’t take time off work [Lani works in a costume shop full-time – ed.], because work is super crazy during November.

“So, the day after I arrived back from America I had II come over to do the life cast. Although a month sounds long, it isn’t. I had the life casts, then the sculpts, then the moulds and then the painting and casting – it takes a long time.”

What kind of brief did the band give you?

“II said he had an idea, so he sent me some little inspirations: he wanted it to have hair and be this colour and have buckles. For the other guys, they actually had a design. The plan was for IV and III’s masks to be fairly similar, but for the paint to be reversed: IV’s is black with gold on the front and III’s is gold with black on the front.”

The new masks are definitely different to what the band wore before. Do you know why they changed them? Do the designs reflect the music they’ll make in their ‘new era’?

“I’m not sure. I’ve not been clued up on that, but I’m sure they have something in mind that the fans will appreciate greatly. There’s definitely a new era coming, but I won’t speak too much on that, because I’m not really clued up on it.”

Lots of people have compared the masks to nu metal bands like Mushroomhead. Was that an influence?

“I’d always heard of Mushroomhead, but never really looked at them. To me they look wildly different. Mushroomhead aren’t the first band to wear masks with a ponytail and eyebrows, and neither are Slipknot. You can say Sleep Token are copying Mushroomhead, but then you can say Mushroomhead were copying Slipknot, Slipknot were copying whoever – no one invented these things.”

Sleep Token with new masks in 2023

(Image credit: Adam Rossi via _lani_mask_/Instagram)

The masks received plenty of notice. What’s the fallout been like for you?

“It’s been great! The first evening, I gained a thousand followers. So far, I’ve gained, like, 5,000, which is just insane!”

This isn’t the first time you’ve made headlines. You picked up your exam results dressed up as Oderus Urungus from Gwar.

“Yes, that was the first time I got noticed by the magazines and whatever. I got into Gwar at the start of lockdown. I was still in school when lockdown came, it was right before my exams, so I had time to just do nothing. Every single day, I was making masks.

“I’ve always dressed up ever since I was young: people always knew me as that weirdo that dresses up for school. I had to go out with a bang, so I dressed up as Oderus Urungus from Gwar. As soon as I walked into the door, everyone was like, ‘Oh God, is that Lani?!’”

Is the dream for mask-making to become your full-time job?

“Absolutely! The dream would be to have my own business one day. I am currently looking for a studio to rent so that I can create my own stuff and sell it, because right now I work out of my family’s kitchen.”

From Sleep Token commissioning you to the explosion in attention you’ve received, how would you summarise the past few weeks of your life?

“I’m eternally grateful for people like Sleep Token giving a young, indie artist work like this. They could have easily gone to some big studio, but they found my work and were like, ‘Oh, he’s just a kid? Let’s go with him!’ The next goal is to make a mask for Slipknot. That would be the end goal, because that’s what started it for me. When I got serious into mask-making, it was definitely with Slipknot.”

Follow Lani Hernandez-David on Instagram at @_lani_mask_.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.