If there’s one band that’s the embodiment of how to fail upwards, it’s most likely Sleeping With Sirens. By all rights, this is a band who should be nowhere near as big as they are, either from being unable to settle on one consistent sound, having lyrics that have been almost embarrassingly underwritten for the longest time, or from having the unfortunate habit of hitting a brick wall whenever they try and get even marginally more ambitious. But somehow they’re still recognised among the scene’s stalwarts, and to a degree, they deserve some respect for that. There’s not been many bands in recent memory who’ve managed to ride as high as they have on output so checkered and uneven as theirs, be that the result of a conscious game plan or just sheer, dumb coincidence. It definitely seems to be the latter that’s most likely there, especially with How It Feels To Be Lost which appears to have the similar confused hallmarks of a band in transition that’s been the overriding trend with the majority of Sleeping With Sirens’ work. Not only has the previously released material given the impression of this being their fourth reinvention in just as many albums, but changing labels once again to Sumerian only hammers down the flightiness that’s hampered any natural progression for Sleeping With Sirens over their last few cycles, and even if their pivot towards heavier, nu-metal-inspired sounds has been better, their track record of fumbles ultimately speaks for itself.

But while nothing is ever certain with Sleeping With Sirens – and this could indeed be yet another fluke – How It Feels To Be Lost is a pretty hefty improvement. It’s still not fantastic, even when held up to the increasingly diminished standards this band have set for themselves, but they’ve at least settled on something that feels workable for them, and showcases a lot of the strengths that have been absent from previous releases in favour of trends and ephemeral bells and whistles. It’s perhaps the first true example of growth that Sleeping With Sirens have ever exhibited, and even if that doesn’t go all the way down, the acknowledgement of its existence here is a considerable step forward, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

Where that proves to be most key comes in the sonic climes that Sleeping With Sirens are exploring this time around, and it’s clear that right out of the gate, playing to some form of creative will ahead of sticking to what’s hot in the scene right this second works for them, plain and simple. The heart of an arena-courting pop-rock band is still worn rather prominently on their sleeve, but the added muscle from grimier hard rock guitars and nu-metal flourishes does create a sense of scale that has something to it rather than just empty size. In fact, you could go one better and say in the way that Sleeping With Sirens have typically wanted to appear as more of a straight-up rock band, this is the most convincing they’ve ever felt at chasing that goal. Of course, that comes with a rather recognisable brand of Sumerian production that beefs up the guitar rumble but always makes it known that modern, synthetic elements are its bread and butter, and thus the electronic stutters on tracks like Ghost and Another Nightmare do feel a bit more overstated than they potentially could be. That said though, they’re far from egregiously placed, and when compared to the gutting that goes on with ballads like PS Missing You and Dying To Believe on this very album, it’s not like they’re unwelcome in forming that contemporary edge that Sleeping With Sirens fall into reasonably well. But on the whole, it can’t be overstated how much of a positive going in this direction has been, through the meaty, sneering guitars on Never Enough and Blood Lines, or even Kellin Quinn showing a more assertive, coarse side that’s immediately preferable to his syrupy helium-bleats that have never fared Sleeping With Sirens well. Granted, it can sometimes feel a bit over-mixed; it’s clear that guitars have been made as loud and aggressive as possible even if that does drown out any significant underlying groove or bassline, the extent of which comes on Break Me Down that just collapses with how heavy and busy the production is with no suitable payoff. But even with those numerous gripes, this is still encouraging stuff, especially from a band like Sleeping With Sirens who’ve never really gone this far with their sound before but can adapt to it relatively well.

And in a way, for the sort of aversion to overwrought emo poetry that they tend to have, this more direct, forceful approach could be far more effective for them, in theory. That’s a bit more debatable though, not through the fault of the production but more in the limitations in Sleeping With Sirens’ writing that continues to prevail. To be fair, there’s a level of fire to Quinn’s criticism of his family environment on Blood Lines that’s a fair bit more explosive than they often deliver, but while bits of the residual rage can be felt elsewhere, it’s the same fare overall that’s more throwaway that it honestly should be. Agree To Disagree is the big example in what feels like a more mature take on an anthem to stand ground against the haters which is roughly as awkward as that makes it sound, but the usual turns of phrase on the likes of the title track and Medicine feel like steps back overall that grind against the advancements made elsewhere rather than gel with them. At least they feel a bit more anthemic this time around which is ultimately the most important payoff from a Sleeping With Sirens album, but they can definitely do more than this, and the fact that they remain so adamant to stay in their safe box feels like a half-hearted effort on their part.

But on the whole, this is the sort of progression that – to be totally honest – has seemed out of Sleeping With Sirens’ reach for years. Their breakthrough has seen a fair diminishing in creativity and quality, and even if How It Feels To Be Lost is still a bit lacking in the former, the leap they’ve made in finding a sound that works for them isn’t to be underestimated, especially when they can hit the right beats to turn out something solid. It’s definitely more transitional than anything, and that can really be felt in the way that Sleeping With Sirens are clearly still testing what works the most for them when paired with this template, but there’s more confidence now that they can deliver than there has been in many years. There’s a way to go yet before they pull off anything great, but the fact that they’re on that track at all is a promising start.

6/10

For fans of: Underøath, The Used, Asking Alexandria
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘How It Feels To Be Lost’ by Sleeping With Sirens is released on 6th September on Sumerian Records.

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