Sleep Token are one of the most talked about, but at the same time cryptic bands in the UK scene of the past few years. Whoever is behind this project has carefully crafted it so that nobody, not even their own label mates, know who is actually in the band. The outfit perked up a lot of ears with their first two EPs, which featured an unusual blend of down-tuned djent riffs mixed with ambient sections that would sit right at home on a Sigur Ros album. These two polar opposites were brought together by the soaring vocals of the front man - simply known by his pseudonym, Vessel.
Whilst their first two EPs showcased authenticity mixed with a host of potential, there was always the danger that this sound would become a gimmick for Sleep Token, and that they'd struggle to evolve out of their own pre-set constraints. Luckily, their debut full-length record Sundowning blows that possibility right out of the water, and the result is what can only be described as one of the most powerful and genuinely moving records released this year.
Before even addressing the actual music, something that has to be mentioned is the ingenious way Sleep Token have marketed Sudowning. Over the past few months - starting in the summer: the band have released one song at sundown on a Thursday, on a fortnightly basis. Whilst this release pattern is symbolic to the overall theme of the album, (that being sundowning syndrome), it is also an excellent way for dedicated fans and newcomers alike to listen to the entire record, as every song is treated as an equal and none are given special treatment by being a promotional single. In an age of streaming platforms and singles, fewer and fewer listeners will actually sit down and listen to a record front to back but Sleep Token have played the system to their advantage by allowing their listeners the time to digest each song before releasing the next one in the sequence.
As for the music itself, Sundowning is by far the most varied collection of material Sleep Token have ever released. Opening track 'The Night Does Not Belong to God', is a somewhat quieter affair than what most fans were used to, whereas following track 'The Offering' was far heavier, even featuring a brief appearance of harsh vocals from Vessel and some sublime drum patterns added in for good measure. Rather than sticking to the formula of their first two EPs, Sleep Token instead decided to throw caution to the wind and diversify their sound, and it has wholeheartedly worked in their favour.
The vocals are of course a highlight from front to back. Bringing in a wide range of influences, Vessel’s singing and crooning on this album is nothing short of absolutely beautiful. Clearly influenced by singers such as Thom Yorke, Jonsi from Sigur Ros and a fair share of indie rock, his singing is as heartfelt and vulnerable as it was on the bands first two EPs, however there is a noticeable improvement in the more powerful moments of on offer here. Additionally, harsh vocals are introduced here for the first time on three tracks; the aforementioned 'The Offering', the climax of the Tool-esque 'Higher' and finally on 8th track 'Gods': an absolute monster of a song and the heaviest song Sleep Token have ever penned.
The diversity of the material on Sundowning makes for a truly dynamic listening experience that truly transcends every single genre that Sleep Token draw influence from. It is impossible to classify because rather than choosing to follow the trends of rock and metal from the last decade, Sleep Token decide instead to pull all those influences together into a truly unique sound that brings back the dynamic quality that is absent from a lot of modern music.
The lyrics are as emotive as they are ugly, chaotic as they are ethereal, and after reaching the end of the final track 'Blood Sport' and hearing Vessel crying in the background, anyone who’s listening will undoubtedly be brought to tears as well. There is not a second of filler on Sundowning, and even the shorter songs that could be considered interludes are given a proper identity rather than simply being functional interludes for changing equipment during concerts. The vocals are absolutely gorgeous, each instrument is given time to shine at different intervals and the songwriting is nothing short of sublime. This is, without question, one of the finest albums to come out this year, a future classic and a truly unique mark in the history of alternative music that should not be skipped over by anyone. Worship.