Review Summary: The Sleeps Brothers are putting me to sleep
Metalcore has not been treating the average metalcore fan very nicely. The trend is tried and true. Every time a band announces a new album, longtime fans get nervous. They sit on the edge of their seats and bite their nails for five months, analyzing and dissecting each single, hoping and praying that their favorite band isn’t about to join the list of metalcore-turned-hard-rock bands. And then, when those singles inevitably become mainstays on Sirius XM Octane Radio, half the fan-base cries “Sellouts!” while the other half tries to convince everyone that the band is just “experimenting” and “evolving their sound.” But the end result is always the same. The songs are bland, the responsible parties load their pockets, and the original fans are gradually replaced with a new collection of casual listeners who just want some sick
new workout tunes. It is a mass migration towards mediocrity, and it has been written about to the point of nausea.
When this trend began, While She Sleeps was really just getting started in their music career. The five-piece from Sheffield were practically unknown outside of the UK, even following the release of their explosive debut album This Is The Six
. The brand of metalcore Sleeps brought to the table was a little different from the vast majority in 2012; it was heavy on riffs, light on whining, and uniquely British. That last point was key in distinguishing them from their contemporaries. Their approach was somewhat old-school, sprinkling in hardcore and heavy metal influences to establish a sound that was familiar but not exhausted. And while it’s not uncommon for English vocalists to pick up American-tinted accents while singing, Lawrence “Loz” Taylor never did. Somehow, even the guitar leads and piano accompaniments felt soaked in British pride and inspiration. Their sophomore release followed suit, focusing on the strengths of their debut while finding room to ramp up the musicianship and alter the lyrical content just enough to keep everything sounding fresh and purpose-driven. In 2017, their third full-length saw the band strip back some of the more technical aspects of their songwriting and instead aim for mass appeal via big choruses and catchy chants. Also noticeably missing on LP3 was that distinctly European flavor that helped lock in the band’s identity.
And that brings us to SO WHAT
, a critical point in the band’s career as it decides whether they revert back to their roots or continue in the vein of simplicity and accessibility. First impressions are important, and this rings true beyond social interactions. So let’s quickly consider our first impressions with SO WHAT
. There’s the album title itself, which sounds like what an angsty 12-year old might say to his mom when she scolds him for wearing the same shirt to school three days in a row. Then there are the song titles, which are fine aside from the fact that EVERY SINGLE ONE IS YELLING IN YOUR FACE (angst x2). Lastly, the album art: a big ol’ amp with a question mark spray-painted on it (angst x3). Now that we’re already a bit wary, we go back to the original prompt and hit play to find out which direction the boys from Sheffield have committed to. For better or worse, the first three tracks on this record answer that question concisely and without room for debate. “Anti-Social” is plagued with absurdly immature lyrics and a Linkin Park-esque rap bridge; “I’ve Seen It All” fumbles around with some generic ‘whoa-ah-oh’s; and “Inspire” is carried by an annoying, glitchy, pop vocal sample that could not be more out of place.
The extremely questionable choices do not end there. As you dig further, you’ll find yet more rapping and cheesy feats of overproduction. Yet somehow, the biggest problem is that the album does not take enough risks. One of the band’s greatest assets has long been their guitarists’ proven abilities to shred. You may recall tracks like “Our Legacy,” where a single song-closing solo was enough to easily hoist them above most guitarists in the scene. The few times noteworthy guitar leads are even present on SO WHAT
, they are buried behind a wall of noise that even the trained ear would have trouble detecting. Power chords and simple time signatures have entirely taken reign, and it seems less and less likely that that will ever change. Even the vocal department is sorely lacking inspiration this time around. Melodies bleed together from song to song, and nearly every vocal line boasts the same rebellious, elbow-swinging cadence as the last.
There are brief moments of respite scattered throughout, usually in the form of a memorable chorus or hard-hitting breakdown. Of course, these attempts tend to work in their disfavor more often than not – but the effective ones are probably enough to keep the average fan invested for the majority of the run-time. The melodic yet foreboding chorus of “Haunt Me,” paired with the classic Sleeps gang vocals, evokes the type of emotional high rarely achieved since the band’s second full-length back in 2015. The break-neck drumming and pummeling riffs that open “Elephant” are also reminiscent of stronger past releases. Nonetheless, the overarching themes of this record are predictability, safety, and relatability. The only surprises are that of disappointment, and the lyrics are merely watered-down renditions of messages we’ve heard from the group countless times.
By the time the final track ends, you might be hard-pressed to recall much of anything that just happened. Aside from a few big missteps, most of what you’ll hear is just consistently average. It goes in one ear and out the other without offending or impressing. There are still remnants of the elements that propelled this band to the top of the genre, but they subtly slip further and further into the background with each release. By throwing virtually nothing at the wall, they’ve given themselves no opportunity to see what might stick. Instead, SO WHAT
plays it safe and sticks to the certified While She Sleeps formula of anthemic choruses and bite-sized ideas.