It goes without saying that Sleep Token are pioneering an entirely new era of metal. When you’re inclined to refer to an album as a ‘body of work’, you know it’s doing something pretty extraordinary. Instrumentally rich, vocally captivating and ambitiously diverse, the hype surrounding the masked collective is understandable.
The third instalment of the Sleep Token project, Take Me To Eden, only amplifies these qualities; a fluid amalgamation of pop, prog-metal and everything in-between. Sonically, Take Me To Eden is pretty impressive.
Beyond its sound, however, the Sleep Token project begins to show a few cracks. The band’s commitment to world-building makes it impossible to critique their work without taking the lore and aesthetic into account – and, while Sleep Token undeniably deliver compelling, gargantuan soundscapes, there’s a glaring disconnect between the Sleep Token aesthetic and thematic endeavours.
Immediately, Take Me To Eden proves Sleep Token know how to pen an amazing track. ‘Chokehold’ is transfixing. A groove-tinged swell of cerebral metal, the track thrives in its thick, calmly gradious soundscaping. This is where Sleep Token shine. Tracks like ‘The Apparition’ and title epic ‘Take Me To Eden’ are woozily crafted to perfection. Black metal banger ‘Vore’ is equally as magnificent, truly the sonic embodiment of being chewed up and spat out with its abrasive brilliance.
The band’s reluctance to stick to one genre is commendable. At times the album feels more pop in its sensibilities than metal, which makes for some interesting moments. ‘Aqua Regia’ is a stand-out in its timelessly meditative flow, incorporating lush harps and some smooth, cocktail-bar-worthy piano, while ‘Ascensionism’ is a soft piano ballad before flowing into a contemporary, almost trap-like, radio-suited beat.
However, while this is sonically compelling, this is where the disconnect begins to rear its head. The sounds work, but do they work for this project? And are they even consistent enough to fit in with the rest of the album? Tracks like ‘Granite’ are truly metal’s answer to Hozier, and whilst it’s bloody good, Hozier’s sleek charm is a far cry from the black-paint smeared, mask-wearing, cloaked demi-gods Sleep Token have set themselves up to be.
‘The Summoning’ is a standout when considering the Sleep Token thematic disconnect. Again, sonically, it’s brilliant, capturing something almost out-of-body, tender and predatory in all the right ways. Breathless howls move into bestial screeching in a way that digs into your guts, wholy affecting. However, that’s when Sleep Token drag you down to earth with the most ridiculously ill-fitted lyrics on the record: “I didn’t wish that I could be your man, or maybe make a good girl bad”. Okay, Vessel, are you a terror-stricken servant offering tokens to the God of Sleep, or Bruno Mars?
The track’s shift from ethereal intrigue to one of bland desire is perhaps a sign that six-plus minute songs aren’t always the best idea. It allows an idea to linger for too long, and that’s when the spark starts to fizzle out. It’s when Sleep Token’s genre-hopping gets a bit too eclectic, and it’s often when the tracks can lose you.
This, alongside the remarkably human elements thrown into certain tracks, leaves a strange taste in your mouth. ‘The Summoning’ shifts from an otherworldly, intriguingly Paganistic anthem to one that is essentially just another song to add to the pile of ‘man lusts after woman’.
Even if the track had remained more abstract, it could be saved – why throw in such an overtly sexual, shallow lyric? ‘DYWTYLM’ is another track begging the questions “do you wish that you loved me?”, and the humanity of the question yet again feels at odds with the Sleep Token lore.
‘Are You Really Okay’ is the most confusing of the lot, however. An almost noodle-y guitar ballad, the stripped back love-doused track is heart-warming, but imagining Vessel performing it feels obscene. It’s giving boy-next-door who throws rocks at your window and climbs up the gutter to kiss you goodnight; when an alternate version of Scream’s Ghostface attempts to do the same, it unfortunately removes some of the charm.
In many ways, these more ‘human’ moments are rendered pretty bland in comparison with the interesting lyricisms on offer. They feel more shallow, more like a track any band could write. And, frustratingly, they do at times draw away from Take Me To Eden’s strengths.
Overall, on Take Me To Eden, Sleep Token have crafted something glorious, brave and commendaly immense, despite the strange disconnect between the demi-god persona and the mundanity of human longing. You’re guaranteed to sink into the album’s various textures – just don’t think too much about the image of Vessel standing outside your house holding a boombox aloft above his head. It might ruin the immersion just a wee bit.