Review Summary: Half awake, half asleep
While She Sleeps, ex-quintessential-core outfit and recent converts to the cult of inoffensive self-parody (a la 2017’s You Are We
) and full-blown trend-chasing (a la 2019’s SO WHAT?
), are back for more with their 5th LP, Sleeps Society
. Having already fallen from the lofty heights of This Is the Six
, slipping over the course of a few years from the group that set the bar for British metalcore to one hurriedly playing catch up, the band’s latest effort was their opportunity to prove to their fans that their roots and ambitions remain intact. Unfortunately, whilst far from an unmitigated disaster, While She Sleeps' return to the fore is by no means a return to form.
Rather than incorporating electronic flourishes and the occasional (unwanted) rap-metal stanza into a straightforward riffy release, it’s the metalcore that feels out of place on Sleeps Society
. I’m exaggerating, probably, yet the band’s focus certainly seems to have shifted from the passion-fueled basement moshpits that they once frequented to limelight-lit, stadium-sized pastures. “Nervous” and “Know Your Worth (Somebody)” place one foot firmly outside of the realm of m/
, flirting with radio-friendly pop-tendencies with a relative degree of taste, but in such a way as to dilute the otherwise invigorating experience. Slowburners “Division Street” and “Call of the Void” feel similarly compromised, both lacking the emotive, metallic umpth
to take them beyond their genetic pop-core leanings towards a satisfying synthesis of styles. It’s not that this drift towards a more accessible sound is in and of itself objectionable, though the argument could be made, but more that the uninspired execution leaves a lot to be desired. The emphasis has shifted sharply towards the shinier, softer side of their sound rather than maintaining their fervent, firey foundation of old, making for a fairly fun ride but relinquishing that which made While She Sleeps such an integral part of the scene to begin with.
That’s not to say that Sleeps Society
doesn’t have its moments, scattered though they may be. The closing breakdown of opener “Enlightenment(_)” is as satisfying as those found on the band’s best material, as can be said of the ferocious, kinetic riffage on the record’s title track. Heart-pounding, hell-raising cuts “Systematic” and “No Defeat for the Brave” are similarly scintillating, still delivering gargantuan hooks and breakneck riffs, even if they eventually succumb to pop-punk-esque refrains and staccato slam-poetry stammering. Such moments (slam-poetry aside) contain a reassuring shadow of the While She Sleeps of yesteryear (see also Sean Long’s typically excellent lead work weaved throughout “You Are All You Need” and frontman Lawrence Taylor’s consistently animalistic vocals), yet ultimately Sleeps Society
suffers when viewed within the context of the band’s previous achievements - as less impassioned, engaging and endearing.
That being said, I'd be loath to lump While She Sleeps in with the current crisis of authenticity sweeping the realm of modern metalcore (yes, Architects, I'm looking at you), given that the Sheffield 5-piece sound anything but insincere on Sleeps Society
. For a group fluent in the language of revolution, it’s frustrating that their latest incarnation sounds as regressive as it does, yet there doesn't appear to be anything underhanded in their escalating accessibility. That the record’s features include actual fans of the band speaks volumes as to the guys' motives, as does the heartfelt (albeit overwrought) closer “DN3 3HT”, such that it’s difficult to outright dismiss Sleeps Society
, despite its shortcomings. It's the band genuinely attempting to expand their artistic perview, even if it doesn't quite hit the mark. Shifting in and out of comatose they may be, but their hearts appear to be in the right place. Here's to hoping they wake up, eventually.