It’s often best to jump on the bandwagon early with mysterious, anonymous acts, because as we’ve seen with Ghost and Batushka in recent years, such acts seldom remain shrouded in mystery forever, and it isn’t always pretty when the curtains come down. Enigmatic outfit Sleep Token, who claim to be dedicated to an ancient deity known as Sleep, have managed to remain secretive since they emerged in 2017, and if you’re yet to find your place on the hype train, Sundowning marks the point where you should buy a ticket and climb aboard. Fronted by masked vocalist Vessel (perhaps the only member?), the band’s sound pulls from easily identifiable reference points, yet assembles these varied touchstones into a cohesive style that sounds unlike anything else. There’s the tender but cinematic post-rock, which is juxtaposed with pulsating, visceral tech-metal, and then there’s the sombre trap beats and the rich textures of chamber pop – all, of course, held together by Vessel’s poignant, Bon Iver-esque vocals.
Despite the group’s commendable ability to keep a secret, the album itself hasn’t been hidden under lock and key. In fact, the band have been releasing a track every two weeks at sundown since June – by the time Sundowning drops, everything will be available anyway. It’s an intriguing way of approaching an album launch, and one that has allowed the band’s most fervent fans – of which there is a growing number – to use the spaces between to pour over the lyrics and debate the tracks’ respective themes and meanings. It’s a bold move to release all of the album’s tracks in advance, but regardless there is something exciting about hearing a full album’s worth of material from the project for the first time. Though fans will be more than familiar with these tracks already, albeit in different arrangements, the album flows expertly and has clearly been constructed as a single statement of intent.
When the band first emerged, they were a uniquely exciting proposition, but early on you could be forgiven for wondering if they were somewhat of a one-trick pony. Sundowning confidently dismisses such concerns, however, proving itself a dynamic offering with a lot to offer beyond the slow builds to transcendent crescendos. ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ is a perfect choice of opener, setting out the stall early on and touching briefly on several different sides to the band’s sound. The droning sci-fi electronics and throbbing riffs of ‘The Offering’, though, truly get the album going in style, hitting hard before slamming on the brakes to allow Vessel to elegantly serenade you. Elsewhere, the dark beats of ‘Dark Signs’ are accompanied by stuttering atmospherics to glorious effect, before ‘Higher’ allows Vessel to shine once again, his voice taking centre stage to build a chilling atmosphere that’s eventually joined by percussion and, soon enough, towering riffs. ‘Take Aim’ offers something new yet again in the form of muted balladry, whilst ‘Gods’ takes things in the opposite direction with down-tuned Deftones chugging and shrieked vocals.
There’s seldom a dull moment here, and in keeping with this theme, closer ‘Blood Sport’ is another highlight in an album lined with them, as chilly keys and a desperate choir build a ritualistic vibe that brings the band’s bizarre concept to the forefront once more. Some might scoff at what they see as little more than pretentious pageantry, but metal has always loved a good gimmick, and Sleep Token’s commitment to theirs makes it much easier to dive in and lose yourself. Come for the elegant, emotive and powerful music and you might just find yourself worshipping an ancient deity. It’s worth the trade-off.
Sundowning is out 22nd November on Spinefarm Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr