When Sleep Token released The Summoning in January, it broke the internet. They were already one of our world’s most talked-about, divisive bands, splitting listeners between those who viewed the masked, anonymous collective as a pretentious gimmick and those enthralled by their blend of ambience, thunderous tech-metal and mournful pop melodies – all elevated by their ritualistic live shows and singer Vessel’s soulful, cursive vocals.
The Summoning, the second single from third album Take Me Back To Eden, stunned fans and earned them a legion of new ones. Taking every idiosyncrasy of the Sleep Token experience to the next level, it veered between a cathedral-sized hymnal chorus and the heaviest breakdown and vocals they’d ever recorded – and with it, the kind of baby-making, jazz fusion volte-face you’d expect from funk/soul producer Thundercat. It blew raspberries at anyone who had accused their ambient/heavy switch-ups of becoming formulaic. Since then, it’s been streamed 25 million times on Spotify, topping online charts and trending on TikTok. Suddenly, the band many initially dismissed as a spurious oddity had become one of the biggest deals in modern metal.
Sleep Token have also become conductors of the hype train. Much in the way they drip-fed their 2019 debut, Sundowning, by dropping a song every two weeks, it’s possible fans will have heard all of ...Eden, by its release date. At the time of writing, the band have put out five singles. The R’n’B-inspired Granite, boner piano jam Aqua Regia and the blackgaze assault of Vore followed the stormy Chokehold and The Summoning, each experimenting with styles, colour palettes and structures, while the beefy production from Carl Bown (While She Sleeps, Malevolence, Bullet For My Valentine) meant it all sounded huge.
That experimentalism defines the album. Are You Really Okay? is a genuine, lighters-in-the-air power ballad, while DYWTYLM skips wistfully through chopped and garbled hyper-pop. Mid-point Ascensionism starts out with delicate piano before taking a swift left turn, with Vessel singing/rapping over clipped beats. The real showstopper comes moments later, though, when the seven-minute track explodes into a kaleidoscopic tidal wave of sound so colossal, it feels like you’re about to be swallowed by the vastness of the universe. The Apparition soon follows, fusing ghostly synths and crashing guitars with latter-day R’n’B.
Sleep Token have always been driven by emotion, but ...Eden’s ruminations on love’s power to destroy and purify feel more tangible than ever. ‘I saw you drifting past the fog’, Vessel croons on the forlorn title track, considering the widening chasms that break apart relationships. Closer Euclid is a bittersweet account of personal growth, leading the album to a surprisingly bright climax of tinkling piano and serene layers of autotune: ‘I just have to leave this part of me behind.’
Combining feeling and sound in a potent, masterful statement, ...Eden is Sleep Token’s strongest effort to date. And, while they’ll always be Marmite, there’s no question it will delight those already onboard. This is a record that not only expands the band’s universe and continues to prod metal’s boundaries, but considers what it means to be human. Otherworldly they may be, but there’s the deepest empathy within.