Review Summary: Worship!
One of the tags for Sundowning
on Google Play (not sponsored) is “Easy Listening”, and the non-denominational-esque auditory spiritualism Sleep Token seem to be channeling on this record certainly feels like a hop and a skip away from things more rigorously steeped in technical tradition like Handel’s “Messiah” or whatever crazy shi
t Israel Houghton and the New Breed get up to on a Sunday morning. “Levitate” is note-for-note a Hillsong United track circa 2011 with a breakdown slapped on the end of it, from the mildly displaced vocal rhythm in the verses, to some fairly loaded and intensely on-the-nose congregation-core lyricism;
Your body is mostly blood
Like water, a perfect flood
Will you levitate
Up where angels inhabit
, to specific synth sounds and booming tom tones that reek
of the kind of arena rock stew white megachurches near universally drink of.
And huzzah, I present to you my tinfoil hat. There’s an eerily familiar sense of being roughly three to five years behind the times on Sundowning
that I can only really attribute to church culture. While Sleep Token’s calling card might be a willingness to inject conventional pop with a heavy case of the dj0nts, “conventional” really is the operative term here. “Dark Signs” pairs the sort of sterile, trap-influenced (bingo) rolling hi-hat production of a Culture Kings Instagram post with a chorus more reminiscent of a bridge than a chorus, and potentially with good reason! There’s this idea in current congregation-centric music (CCCM, anybody?), particularly that of non-denominational organisations, that the song can mirror the crucifix in enjoyability so long as it rises again on the third day; the bridge is where the souls are saved! It’s a modus operandi that's had some intriguing ramifications, with countless songs foregoing choruses or melding them into verses or being nothing more than a bridge hook; the build to the climax is where we give our thanks and the climax itself is uninterrupted by the feeble words of a guy playing an acoustic guitar that isn’t plugged in wearing the holy garments of ripped skinny jeans and a tartan longsleeve.
Even in the more Metal!™ cuts on Sundowning
, this philosophy largely rings true. The Offering
doesn’t have a chorus as much as it does an instrumental hook, and it’s a pretty fu
cking nice hook. Sleep Token have an ear for tight, conventional melody, but they manage to twist it just
enough to warp the atmosphere into something considerably darker than it has any right being without entering Weird Town!™. My favourite example of this comes in the form of a clean electric riff that bookends the anthemic and entirely Christianese choruses of “Higher”. It’s a surprisingly well-considered little riff that places the previously sparse, tonic-octave-tonic leading line into somewhat of a more ambiguous context. When it makes its last appearance under the vocal line ”You won’t begin again” (x4)
, the simplicity of the vocal melody takes on a grim undertone that it otherwise wouldn’t if the riff were played straight. Whether or not the lyrics deserve this kind of melodic nuance is anyone’s guess, but it's a nice touch that prevents an already overly-familiar approach to songwriting from feeling like nothing more than Heavy Hillsong.
You may be surprised to know the nuance extends beyond just the melody! There are quite a few rhythmic choices throughout that are surprisingly stanky, such as the drum work in aforementioned tracks like “The Offering” or “Higher”. Syncopation is the name of the game here; you are never entirely lost for where the downbeat is (though the closing moments of “Levitate” might disprove this statement) but the band is still able to comfortably fu
ck with your sense of stability when the time calls for it, and largely, they utilise this tomfoolery with tact (well, about as much tact as a record like this can muster anyway). The ghost note-laden groove that drives “Blood Sport” towards its chorus carries with it the sort of wonky precision only really seen right now by bands closer to the top of the progcore pack. It doesn’t quite redeem the song going out on lines like
Somewhere the atoms stopped fusing
I’m still your favourite regret
You’re still my weapon of choosing
, but it is welcome! I will take talented noises where I can find them! Do more of that thing please!
But alas, Sleep Token is a bit of a fiery mistress, refusing to go down without proving to me that congregational music devoid of a congregation is near inherently flawed. To quote a dear heathen on this very site, “motherfu
cking christ 90% of [this] sleep token album is just ballads”, and while this is somewhat hyperbolic, there’s an air of truth to the sentiment. I’d sooner drag “Drag Me Under” off the tracklist than acknowledge it as anything more than tithe & offering filler. “Take Aim” is pretty and organic in a stripped-back, missionary campfire ditty sense that’ll no doubt appeal to djembe spiritualists and that one youth leader who funded his entire college tuition on Indiegogo. Arguably the least conventional track on the record, “Sugar”, is so intently centered around the worst motif on the record that for all its whimsical production choices and dynamism, it still comes off tedious without the backing of a crowd.
“Ho ho! So Sleep Token are meant to be experienced live!”, yes I say to you, me! The band’s social media is entirely primed around this notion of “worship”, something their followers have latched onto with comedic abandon. I’m not sure how many of them are simply on the bandwagon and how many are pastor’s kids who fell into deep sin after getting a septum piercing but its fairly clear that theocracy rules the day, with Sleep Token’s sole member standing as something of a self-appointed prophet; a veritable middle income Jesus. Though maybe that’s even a stretch, given the vast outpouring of merch this one man has managed to procure from seemingly nothing. The winning formula that is non-denominational Christianity has shown its merit as a successful business model! Protestants can suck my farts! I can’t attest to the quality of Sleep Token’s live shows, but from the way they present themselves musically, via social media, through their merch, and maybe to a lesser extent, philosophically, there’s a magnetism they possess that will see them expand rapidly. “Sundowning” almost feels like scalable music. It isn’t an album as much as it is a component. Sleep Token aren’t a band as much as they are an operation. “Worship” isn’t an action as much as it is an attitude the band is actively trying to permeate. I can’t say they’ve completely wowed me with their writing abilities here, but I also can’t help but be a little jealous that I didn’t consider turning religious experience into a metal profit machine myself.