With ‘Alkaline,’ Sleep Token showcase why they are the future.
When Sleep Token first gained attention circa 2017-2018 around the time of their brilliant ‘Two‘ EP, Outkast cover, and singles like ‘Jaws‘, they were a very interesting musical collective blending an array of styles, slowly cultivating an intrigued but dedicated listenership, set to a background of anonymity. Mysterious and anonymous groups, especially masked ones, aren’t anything new, and the further you creep into more extreme and avant-garde black and death metal realms, the higher frequency in which you encounter said acts. (Australia’s own extreme-masters Portal come to mind.) Thankfully, Sleep Token have so much more going on under the hood with music than just some cool-looking masks.
Over the last two years, Sleep Token have genuinely exploded: their playing festivals such as Download like it’s no biggie. This is in part thanks to the continual communal approach of their foreboding yet energetic live shows, also due to the success and impact of their fantastic 2019 debut LP, ‘Sundowning.’ (One of my favourite releases from that particular year.) And it’s only up from here.
In 2021, their passionate clergy has only grown larger and even more committed, with more eyes and ears on them than ever before, with savvy listeners even figuring out their identities but politely, respectfully, keeping their mouths shut. Personally, I feel this “treasure-hunt” to figure out who the band are is irrelevant; it wouldn’t alter anything about their incredible song-work and seems like a quest people wish to solve just so they can pat themselves on the back. It’s like trying to figure out who The Armed really is: don’t worry about it, focus on the “what” instead of the “who.” In Sleep Token’s case, the “what” is some great stuff. It’s all about the ‘offerings’ – their actual musical releases – and with ‘Alkaline‘, the collective’s offerings only continue to impress, finding a sweet sonic equilibrium between all the things they’ve become known for.
Going beyond the supernatural action-movie visuals of the below music video, the theme behind ‘Alkaline‘ is one of desire. Using a lyrical metaphor of chemical reactions and electrochemistry to discuss the longing for a potential relationship with someone whom you’re willing to fully, completely, accept and love for who they are. (“Not acid nor alkaline. Caught between black and white” sooner followed by the line: “I’m caught up in her design. And how it connects to mine.”)
This kind of emotional maturity is another big reason why people have become so enthralled with Sleep Token: the personal resonance that they share with the honest lyrical content. When you strip off all of the masks, hoods, ritualist vibes and mysterial cultish imagery, their songs are genuinely about love, heartbreak, relationships, and hurt. It’s that simple but effective framing device that has latched permanently onto the ears and hearts of so many, resulting in loyal fan-made Facebook groups and passionate fans who’ll comment “Worship” without a second thought.
Sleep Token is an exciting band, but they’re also a consistent one. The structure of ‘Alkaline‘ is what I expected from them even before pressing play. Vocals and synths first with some cool darker melodic twists, the atmosphere ramping up, ticking electronic percussion looping before the live acoustic drums kick in, pumping out a few undeniably obsessive choruses, and a weird but cool final flourish to make for a strong conclusion. Even the finer details of the track are easily estimated: II’s perfectly ghost-noted drum patterns that exude pure groove, all of those minor keys and moody synthesisers, Vessel’s earthy, characterful voice and tone that still flexes a wide vocal range, a blend of calm stillness and chugging heaviness. Definitely a familiar and formulaic sound for Sleep Token, but one that feels slightly more sinister than what’s come before it; they are always in such strong control of their elements. This is the Sleep Token many know and love (myself included) but one that also feels like it’s slowly maturing. As Vessel puts it in the first verse: “I am altered.”