They're heavy music's latest masked mavericks, and they’ve sold out Wembley Arena. But who exactly are Sleep Token? We chart the rise and rise of metal’s hottest band

Vessel from Sleep Token with a snake on his head
(Image credit: Andy Ford)

Rock music has a thing for the theatrical. From the pioneering eccentricity of Arthur Brown to face-painted trailblazers like Kiss and Alice Cooper, all the way to the masked madness of Slipknot and the campy Devil worship of Ghost, it’s almost as coded into the genre’s DNA as the guitar. And if there’s one band across 2023 who made the strongest claim to be carrying rock’s history of theatricality and mystique forwards, it was Sleep Token

The mysterious, masked viral sensations are the biggest breakout band to emerge from the metal scene since Tobias Forge decided to throw on a robe and mix black-metal visuals with classic-rock hooks more than a decade ago. In the space of 12 months, Sleep Token have grown from hotly tipped underground favourites to one of the most talked about bands on planet Earth. And, it seems, they’re only just getting started. 

By 2023 they were already positioned as one of metal’s most exciting modern forces, their unique blend of groove-driven, tech-metal riffs and propulsive, slick, R&B-indebted hooks earning them followers in their droves. Third album Take Me Back To Eden was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. But it was The Summoning, one of that record’s early singles, that truly produced the spark for the explosion that followed. 

A smooth, sultry, pop-metal banger, it started getting serious traction on TikTok – the social media platform dominated by savvy, hyperactive Gen Z’ers, who seemingly couldn’t get enough of this thrillingly fresh sound. The track began trending worldwide, shooting to the top of Spotify’s Viral Songs chart and racking up tens of millions of streams. 

By the time Take Me Back To Eden was released a few months later, Sleep Token were the most discussed act in heavy music. Incredibly, the album debuted at No.3 in the UK. And when the band announced that they were headlining London’s prestigious Wembley Arena (the show took place in December), tickets sold out in less than 10 minutes. All this without officially revealing their identities, or even ever giving a proper interview.

While the band’s popularity undoubtedly exploded this year, the hype for Sleep Token was being sown from the very beginning. As soon as their debut single Thread The Needle arrived in the autumn of 2016, they began bewitching the rock underground, their unique fusion of genres unlike anything else in the scene at the time. 

Two EPs followed: One, released that December, and Two a few months later. But as fresh as the music itself was, the thing that really added to Sleep Token’s allure was that no one had the foggiest idea of who the members were. Wearing cloaks and masks, and led by the mysterious Vessel, the band evaded giving press interviews almost entirely, Vessel granting Classic Rock’s sister magazine Metal Hammer a solitary, short conversation in mid-2017 that remains the only interview they’ve given to date. 

Lifting the lid on the mystical concept driving the band – namely that of worshipping a deity named Sleep, and spreading his message to as many people as possible (keeping up?) – Vessel was delightfully cryptic in his answers, quickly pooh-poohing a comparison to Ghost, whose own mysterious schtick had helped them become a serious force in the metal scene. 

“The only comparison that can be drawn with Ghost is our anonymity,” Vessel noted. “Our verses are a token, crafted to magnify and embody the multitude of emotion that writhes in our subconscious. Sonically our voice is rooted in the resonation between the notes and your emotion.” 

That explains that, then. The enigmatic aura surrounding Sleep Token only added to the growing hype. By the time their first show took place, at a packed-out Black Heart pub in Camden, London, in May 2017, they had already become a major talking point.

Following a couple of years of sporadic releases and more shows, Sleep Token finally unveiled their debut studio album. Titled Sundowning, it was announced in June 2019, with a new song from the record released every two weeks throughout the year, until the album was available in full in November – with each song emblazoned with its own symbol and visualiser, furthering the band’s fascinating mythology. 

In 2021, second album This Place Will Become Your Tomb was released, garnering critical acclaim and putting the band in bigger venues, and their shows felt less like rock gigs and more like frenzied cult gatherings, fans almost delirious in their adulation of this strange, anonymous, soulfully powerful collective. 

Fast-forward two years and you’ll struggle to find anyone with a passing interest in heavy rock that hasn’t at least heard of Sleep Token. Where the band go from here is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: the way they have so carefully protected themselves and their IP suggests they are taking the utmost care with planning every manoeuvre. With that in mind, we suspect the gospel of Sleep will continue to spread far and wide for some time yet.

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.