The advent of Sundowning (Spinefarm Records), the debut album from London-based shoegazer Sleep Token, goes back over a year: so its release, ahead of a major US tour, has seen a level of furore largely unknown in Metal circles. Hiding identity under a cloak a la Ghost, there’s an added mystique here from an embracing of spiritual and somnolent values (the album’s title is the term given to the daily crash of dementia, for example), while melody is to the fore of the core sound.
This is evidenced by the ice-cold poignancy of the synth-and-piano cascade of opening track ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’. This courses through an utterly heartbreaking track, following a path not unlike the sort of post-Hardcore peddled by the likes of We Are The Ocean – ‘Starter Metal’ if you will – but with an honest emotion bleeding from the lungs of single band member Vessel which is enhanced by delicate, sparing harmonies. A powerful buzz emanates from the rhythms of ‘The Offering’, giving steel to that plaintive voice and the almost Victorian chimes of the keys, and this gives an anthemic feel to the explosions of noise which swell into Karnivool-flavoured Prog toward the coda. As the closing track of this opening salvo, ‘Levitate’ returns to that sad Pop-like sensibility: more sparse, shattering synth piercing another tale of loss and grief delivered with overwhelming pathos and closing crashes of rhythm guitar.
Despite the frequent high notes, Vessel’s deep tendencies show a wide vocal range that adds emotion and power to the material, not least the sampled beats of the moody, London Grammar-like ‘Dark Signs’ which again receives a mighty boot of rhythm towards the close. Booming drums resonate against the powerful lyrics and chiming guitar of standout track ‘Higher’,while the softened beauty of ‘Take Aim’, ‘Give’ and the indescribably tragic-sounding ‘Drag Me Under’ are graced by soaring falsettos that support the seemingly fantastical theory that Sam Smith could be the man behind this beguiling outfit. The harsh vocal augmenting the haunting fire of ‘Gods’ ridicules this comparison but does demonstrate fully the remarkable range and power at the protagonist’s disposal, giving him another weapon in his aim to flick between such disparate styles so seamlessly, so effortlessly, and this is further backed by a return to the sparing, twisted yet lovelorn, occasionally heavy balladry of ‘Sugar’ and ‘Say What You Will’.
An album as enigmatic and diverse as its creator closes with the Jeff Buckleyesque ‘Blood Sport’, with honeyed tones carrying a somewhat sinister approach to love. Sundowning is the fascinating, absorbing event that those attracted by Sleep Token’s earlier forays had been both anticipating and hoping for, and one which will ensure many others are ensnared in its magnetic trap.