Review: Sleep Token Continues to Push Boundaries on Take Me Back To Eden


The meteoric rise of Sleep Token may be one of the best success stories in modern heavy music. Besides the anonymous masked members looking like anime villains, the UK band’s combination of art-pop, R&B, and djent-ish tech metal has given folks a lot to chew on. The band’s supposed worship of a deity called “Sleep” paid off, because their strange combination of styles has gone viral on streaming services and landed them some key tour slots. They also match their explosive popularity with one awesome release after the other. The obvious calling card remains the powerful, emotive, and unorthodox singing from the front person, known only as The Vessel, but Sleep Token has continued to refine every aspect of its genre mash. Sundowning (2019) to This Place Will Become Your Tomb (2021) exhibited growth on all fronts — growth continued in spades by Take Me Back to Eden.

Take Me Back to Eden still leans into Sleep Token’s cross-section of pop, R&B, and modern prog metal, and the breadth of this sonic spectrum manifests right from the start. The Vessel’s voice cuts through the droning synth-scapes and dive-bomb string bend riffage alike on opener “Chokehold,” extracting rapturous melodies from a decidedly non-melodic foundation. His vast vocal range seamlessly guides the ambiguous ambiance to grand, earth-rumbling proportions.

Sleep Token never fully reveals their hand in how their arrangements might develop. With a track like “The Summoning,” which contains the most intense breakdown Sleep Token has written so far, the band still pushes itself melodically in the fray. In the same song, The Vessel reaches for the stratosphere with some incredibly high notes in a spell-binding chorus and layers of whistle-tone screams for the jagged breakdowns. Even after the stomping, syncopated mosh part gives way to glacial synth patches, these guys can’t help but throw one last curveball with warbly fusion funk vibes. Genre distinctions honestly don’t matter at this point. Sleep Token exists in their own realm now.

While the heavier side of Sleep Token favors poly-rhythms and ultra-low guitars, the complexity doesn’t lessen once pop takes over completely. From the dreamy synth lines of “Aqua Regia” emerges sensual piano performances complete with jazzy chords and gorgeous runs of notes. Complete with a harmonically nuanced bass line and an intricate electronic beat, it’s easy to imagine both prog music nerds and fans of alt-R&B artists like SZA finding something to enjoy in it. Attention to detail remains present in the sparce staccato machinations of “DYWTYLM.” Without reverberant textures to hide behind, The Vessel’s warm, billowing voice intuitively fills out the sonic space left by the minimalist synth pop. The creative production and artful musicality keeps these decidedly non-metal parts not only interesting, but unskippable for anyone who likes well-conceived music.

But still, the real magic of Sleep Token becomes the way punishing and pleasant sonics combine on cuts like “Granite” and “Vore.” The former brings rattling hi-hats and lackadaisical keyboard arpeggios, with The Vessel’s vocal cadence nodding to sad-boi singers like 88Rising star Joji, and still finds a way to incorporate destructive riffage into the swaying groove. By contrast, the latter comes out swinging with a surge of distorted screams and double-kick-driven power. What separates this from other post-rocky metalcore outfits comes down to the unique romanticism of the leads. Even the screams, which appear more often compared to past Sleep Token albums, carry an incredible passion. It’s beautiful, arresting, and undeniably catchy.

A cut like “Are You Really Okay?,” essentially Sleep Token’s take on a power ballad, stays leaps and bounds away from schmaltzy goofery through sheer songwriting chops. Beyond the blunt, yet heartfelt lyricism, (Don’t you know/ I want to help you/ but I don’t know how/ Are you really okay?), the more straightforward execution benefits from tactful note placement and emotional resonance. In simple terms, taking away the prog elements of Sleep Token reveals a band that simply knows how to write solid tunes. Similarly, the gentle beginnings of “The Apparition” do way more than wait until the full band drops in. In fact, it’s not even the fact that the trap-influenced beat and vocal lines come off like a smarter version of Post Malone. It’s really the fact that nothing about the song insists on itself. It doesn’t try to be different. This is just the world Sleep Token lives in.

The best example of casual creativity from Sleep Token comes during “Ascensionism,” which starts with ethereal piano voicings and ends with unapologetic Meshuggah vibes. The tasteful dynamic journey from delicate, synthetic verses to detuned beatdowns allows the vocals to take a step back and let the instrumentation shine through in its strident bridging of violence and serenity. It all oozes creative instinct, which explains why “Rain” avoids the pitfalls of unmemorable deep cuts even if its structure could at this point be considered Sleep Token per usual. No one sounds like them, so “per usual” means intricate rhythm structures, unique riffage, and sweeping refrains.

It would also explain why an eight-minute monster of a title track hardly feels its length. No other song on the album revels in 1-to-100 dynamic leaps, so when it happens here toward the end of the album it doesn’t feel overplayed. Said dynamic leaps are also timed perfectly so that the lulls don’t get boring and the skull-splitting heaviness doesn’t get tiresome. The energy flows fluidly, taking the album closer to post-rock with its massive crescendos and arrival points. After such a huge undertaking, it’s fitting for “Euclid” to land the album more peacefully. But even here, Sleep Token won’t settle for a simple outro.

The closer’s excitable band hits punch through the slow-burning elegance to end the album in style—but again, taking out the loudness leaves a solid piano ballad. Even if it stripped down to just the Vessel’s singing, it’d still be a compelling listen. There’s just so much to appreciate about Sleep Token, especially with Take Me Back to Eden simultaneously polarizing their extremes and letting their nuances flourish. If nothing else, this album earns the growth it has already given one of the coolest bands in recent memory.

Sleep Token’s Take Me Back to Eden is out May 19, and physical copies are currently available for preorder via Sharptone Records.

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