ALBUM REVIEW: Sleep Token – ‘Take Me Back To Eden’

Artwork for Sleep Token’s ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ - a drawing of the moon, with the bottom missing to reveal tentacles

There was clearly something in the water at the start of 2023. Either that, or Sleep Token’s New Year’s resolution to become the biggest band in alternative music came true in a major way, as strings of new singles were released, and every one was received like the literal second coming. It wasn’t an absolute out-of-the-blue occurrence, granted—Sleep Token were already tipped as a very hot commodity and had been for a few years—but this kind of phenomenon of almost everyone rallying behind one band to explode doesn’t tend to happen with as much concentrated fervour as this.

And on the basis of pure optics, it does make sense. The mystique behind Sleep Token is inherently magnetic, as a band who’ve pretty much shunned traditional press junkets and marketing campaigns to do everything their own way. Musically they can be seen as just as creatively liberated, in monoliths comprised of alt-metal dashed with the loftiness of djent, trap and pop, and Vessel’s sonorous, contorting voice that’s such an immediate calling card for them. And with a clear lack of industry bigwigs breathing down their neck to pen an obvious hit, it makes perfect sense why this is such an attractive prospect to get behind.

But at the same time…is it really though? In the past, Sleep Token have always landed as a more eye- and ear-catching band than a particularly good one. Everything about them might seem totally sensational, apart from the fact it’s never translated to actual songs, the prerequisite feature of any musical act. The mystery and showmanship has been Sleep Token’s top-billed asset since the very beginning, and being able to leverage that as faultlessly as they have to get people through the door is seemingly how they’ve ended up in this position. Take Me Back To Eden arrives amidst the peak of Sleep Token’s overexposure, running over an hour in what’ll likely be another perplexing enormous swing for the minority not already enamoured (hi there). Maybe it’s more useful to use this as an investigation alongside a typical review then, to try and parse out where the rock and metal communities’ obsession with Sleep Token comes from, and whether there really is more to this current era than was previously evident.

So let’s start with the positives then—Take Me Back To Eden makes it easier than ever to understand the appeal of Sleep Token, that being how there’s really no one else exactly like them in their current circles. If Bring Me The Horizon remain the yardstick for what this sort of modern, heavy, genre-agnostic rock music is, then it’s no wonder that Sleep Token can generate so much excitement as they pull and extrapolate that to their own whims. You could call it prog for people who’d never listen to a Dream Theater or a Haken—vast and sprawling, and bellied by its own perceptions of grandeur and self importance.

On top of that, it just sounds fantastic. In terms of pure production, Sleep Token are fully aware of how to craft something so expensive-sounding and opulent. They don’t go heavy all the time, but when they do, the crash and the weight really does plummet down with a presence; a track like Vore finds itself intermingled in metalcore screams and djent steeliness, and a miles-wide atmosphere to fix it all together. This is already a huge album in terms of minutes, but you can tell how doggedly Sleep Token have strived to give every single one a portentous air. And when that extends to some rather intriguing dalliances with trap on Ascensionism and the title track, Take Me Back To Eden’s density is held aloft as its greatest strength.

But that seems to be where the conversation ends most of the time. Sleep Token are a band with a cool sound and way of delivering it, but what about the rest? What about the idea of good songs, or a consistent hook to keep you going that, three albums in, Sleep Token are still yet to nail down? It’s really not asking too much, especially on an album that expects you to give it over an hour of your time, only for you to feel every laborious second of it. A good pitch doesn’t just wipe away faults as inherent as that; there needs to be at least some balance on the go, and Take Me Back To Eden makes that exceptionally hard to find.

It’s the pacing where things really take their turn, or rather the lack thereof, because as Sleep Token’s ponderousness takes hold, it doesn’t make way for a lot of dynamism here. Even in the sound, you might get the odd pivot—the aforementioned trap moments; the churning funk of The Summoning’s last leg; the plinking indie-pop of DYWTYLM—but it’ll always go back to the base, and feel rather interchangeable when it does so. Sleep Token might have the stamina to extend out for six or seven minutes at a time, but rarely do they have the flexibility to make it work. Exacerbated by how slow this album can move—methodical to the point of cratering most reasonable momentum—you’re left with a monolith of a listen in the most tradition sense of the word, being huge and imposing, but also rooted down and effectively stationary.

It’s the crux of the argument for why Sleep Token don’t really work, or at least in the context of a full album. For an individual single or two, it’s perfectly understandable why someone would find this intriguing; stretched out over a beefy album though, and duplicated across almost the entire thing, and it runs its course pretty quickly. Chokehold ends up being one of the best tracks here by virtue of being the first, the freshest example of the Sleep Token formula (which unquestionably is a formula) that lands with the most genuine weight. There’ll be the odd other moment like Vore or Rain that develops something to grip on with a bit more hardily, but there’s such a barrier to entry in getting all the way there. It might sound harsh, but in a way, it’s endemic of Sleep Token being metal’s Imagine Dragons—heavily produced to where their own rigidity and clunk often gets the better of them, and sometimes sticking the landing seemingly just by getting lucky.

In fact, maybe Sleep Token share more with that indie / pop crowd than one might expect. What does it say when the nearest likenesses to this metal vocalist are Dan Smith from Bastille, Lewis Capaldi and Rag’n’Bone Man? Well, in the case of Vessel, it at least puts forward a distinctiveness thanks to bloviating warble that’s a substantial distance removed from anyone else in metal. Though that might as well be the default line in any discussion about Sleep Token where the talk on how ‘it doesn’t really work’ takes hold. In this case, there can be an emphasis on histrionics that can struggle to meet their target, brought to the fore as what defines Vessel as a singer. He’s just about as good as any other part of Sleep Token when it comes to filling space, but it’s hard to feel much emotional resonance when the affectation is so blatantly put-on, and that seems to be the complete opposite of the intended effect. Added to that, the writing is already fairly abstract which isn’t the best fit for wringing real humanity from. The online perception of Sleep Token as a ‘horny’ band has always been questionable, but here, it’s borderline impossible to see when it’s so difficult to glean a lot at all.

But despite the wealth of criticisms to be had about it, Take Me Back To Eden isn’t that bad an album. It’s been overhyped to the fucking moon and back—and will no doubt continue to be for a long time—but there’s something to it nonetheless. It’s conceptually interesting in what Sleep Token are doing, and it clearly shows off a vision of wanting to be a rock colossus that’s worth paying attention to. That’s effectively a predestined outcome now, but it’s the fact that it’ll likely come off the back of this album that’s less appealing. Put simply, this doesn’t feel like a useful springboard to take Sleep Token to that level with, not when it’s lacking a sense of forward force or movement that’s crucial to have. And that hasn’t changed all that much from their past work either, which leaves the question open of where the sudden upsurge around Sleep Token has come from. Dunno—maybe it’ll click one day (they seem like the sort of band for whom that’ll be touted as a reason they’re good), but it’d be nice if that would reveal itself sooner rather than later.

For fans of: Bring Me The Horizon, Spiritbox, Northlane

‘Take Me Back To Eden’ by Sleep Token is released on 19th May on Spinefarm Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

9 thoughts

  1. Not everyone gets Sleep Token, and that’s perfectly OK. In a world over saturated with songs that are nothing more than hooks and “don’t bore us just get to the chorus” listeners, Sleep Token’s music is designed as a journey, not a destination. Their “hook”, if one is even needed…is their contrast. How they flow from dark synth pop, to metalcore, to R&B and everything in between, yet still create awesome songs – has been attempted by many, but never perfected to the way they’ve done so…IMHO.

  2. this is a terrible review, the entirety of Sleep Token’s discography is amazing and many of their songs are the best I’ve ever heard

  3. p.s. Working in the music industry as a writer and A&R for some time, my biggest dissapointment is the ongoing tendency for writers to take a contrary position for effect. Build ’em up, knock ’em down has been going on for years. The very best reviewers are self aware enough to escape the trap, sadly most know that a reactionary review will get eye balls (and is a lot easier to write!). Ah well.. I can keep hoping for better writing someday..

  4. Lol. This might be the most common ignorant article in the music industry. How out of touch can one “writer” be?

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