Three years ago, While She Sleeps had just come off their most successful cycle yet. 2017’s You Are We saw them nail their distinctive brand of metalcore – a perfect blend of melodic hooks, turbocharged riffs, and huge gang-chant choruses – and finally, it seemed as though those long-touted ‘future of metal’ predictions were falling into place. So the band’s decision to follow it by changing up their sound on 2019’s genre-mashing So What? was a risky one, introducing rapping, choirs, electronics and more melody, and garnering mixed reactions from some fans who thought they knew what this band were about.
Sleeps Society, which is named after the band’s Patreon platform, sees them continuing to chip away at those preconceived expectations. It still sounds like WSS, of course; guitarist Sean Long has a seemingly bottomless pit of inventive, twisting riffs at his disposal, which makes sure of that, but what’s most startling is just how natural the more experimental touches now sound embedded in the band’s classic formula.
Opener Enlightenment(?), a song that warns against the constant pursuit of perfection (‘You are the authority of your own existence’), starts with a spiralling riff that gives way to a nagging electronic hook in the song’s final act. A filthy, acid rave undercurrent pervades throughout the buzzing title track, and Systematic, a nu metal rager that’s weightier than gods’ balls, hits like an aftershock, complete with rapping, turntable scratching and cheerleader chants. These are no longer jarring embellishments; now they simply feel like part of WSS’s genetic makeup, to the extent that the more straightforward moments like Call Of The Void and No Defeat For The Brave, which throw back to the Brainwashed era, feel like the least interesting material here.
This all makes Sleeps Society a natural progression from So What?, but when they come, the curveballs feel even bolder. It’s difficult to imagine the band would have sat down two years ago and written a song like the anthemic, almost completely clean Nervous, which features some earnbest ad libs from metalcore’s guest star de jour, Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, fresh from his turn on Architects’ For Those That Wish To Exist. The same goes for Division Street, which sacks off the clarion-call riffs altogether for nothing but the band’s voices, rising in anxious unison over a trembling piano.
The biggest surprise, however, comes with seven-minute closer DN3 3HT. Over a crackled line and a stark piano, each bandmember offers a message to their fanbase with words of appreciation and encouragement for those struggling through hard times. It’s a pretty cheesy idea and in less genuine hands it could have been woeful, but While She Sleeps manage to turn it into a sincere and heartfelt moment. Throughout this album, there’s a message of self-love: of knowing your worth at a moment when mental health is on its arse and people are full of doubt and fear for the future. All of which makes Sleeps Society an album very much for these troubled times, from a band we can continue to believe in.