If you told us ten years ago that there would be a new masked band on the scene that were successfully converting metalheads into fans of catchy, pop-friendly music, we’d have either scoffed at you or simply reminded you of the existence of Ghost. Sleep Token, while sounding nothing like the Satanic Swedes, have certainly planted their flag into a similar idea of defiant metal that finds its power in the most unlikely of places.
Although heavy music with pop hooks is certainly not a new thing, Sleep Token are dissolving the boundaries of the genre divide with a greater force than anyone before. And, as they welcomed in the new year with a surprise smattering of immediately-loved singles that embraced everything from hip-hop to prog-metal, Vessel and his band once again proved that their radical formula works. When those songs are debuted in a live setting tonight at Hammersmith’s Apollo, they highlight exactly what modern metal has been waiting for.
On the final date of this sold-out UK tour, supporting band Northlane kick off the evening as a fitting (and blood-pumping) segue into an evening of genre-flipping curveballs. Firing out a meticulous mish-mash of thumping electronica, nu metal and rigorous metalcore, the Aussies ensure this packed-out, 5,000-capacity venue has its energy metre firmly in the lofts.
As they glide out onto the stage dripping in black velvet, Sleep Token materialise like a group of disconcerting apparitions, opening with new singles Chokehold and The Summoning. Immediately, fans latch onto every lyric of the days-old songs like they’re welcome classics. Meanwhile, frontman Vessel creeps, skitters and jolts around the stage, half like a panicked cockroach, half like an unconfident teenager dancing around their bedroom, mindful of watching eyes.
It’s a constant criss-cross of energies: Vessel’s enigmatic hyperactivity, his backing singers standing still like frozen statues, backed by flickering, disorientating strobes of light that plummet into black against the sudden romantic hues of fluorescent pinks. It’s bewildering, but totally fascinating.
Sleep Token’s powerful versatility appears most prominently during Hypnosis, with its pummelling riffs that seethe and pull against the bubblegum, shiny pop of its radio-friendly chorus. Alkaline conjures the same feeling, its crooning choruses and sickly-sweet lyrics set against smacking riffs that sound like they’re ripping through the Earth’s crust with every thrust.
Throughout the night, Vessel’s vocals serve as an anchor amidst the storm, his Rag ‘N Bone Man-twang continually soaring into angelic falsetto peaks before diving into warm, emotional-filled warbles. In between breaks of each impressive note, such as during the atmospheric Atlantic, some fans let out dizzied squeals, calling to mind the manic, ecstatic state that’s usually spurred on by the heartthrob leader of a boy-band.
Towards the end of the set, emotions run high as Vessel lets out staggered sobs during the beautiful The Night Does Not Belong to God. At this point, his reaction is unsurprising; if ‘worship’ (Sleep Token’s long-cemented mantra) is what they’ve been looking for, then worship is exactly what has taken place tonight.
With the entirety of the venue standing on its feet with arms outstretched for a closing performance of The Offering, the congregation comes to its end, and the room is left spellbound by this totally new, hybrid form of metal. While it’s unclear whether Sleep Token will manage to get the more intolerant metalheads on board, especially during their long-winded wanders into pop and hip-hop, it's obvious their diverse talents could take them anywhere from the mainstream stages of Glastonbury to the heaviest of metal festivals. Whatever they do, and however they do it, we’ll be watching (and worshipping).
Sleep Token Hammersmith Apollo setlist January 22, 2023
2. The Summoning
5. Dark Signs
7. Like That
8. Aqua Regia
13. The Love You Want
14. The Night Does Not Belong To God
15. The Offering