It’s nigh on impossible to put a finger on quite why While She Sleeps’ sophomore effort Brainwashed (Search and Destroy) didn’t explode. Everything was in place. It was, as we at Ghost Cult opined at the time, the right album at the right time from the right band. And yet, while it undoubtedly moved them forwards, the smashing of the glass ceiling never happened. Whether that shattering and reaching of new heights is being reserved for You Are We (Sleeps Brothers / crowd-funded) time will tell, but this time around it definitely feels like there is the requisite momentum behind the Sheffield, UK, based metal/hardcore hybrid (to use the term “metalcore” following over a decade of bastardization implies too much widdly guitaring and not enough punky aggression).
The decisions the band has taken over the past year have met with universal approval and, whether by design, accident or feel, their choice to go down the crowdfunded route has resulted in a real sense of community. Either way, You Are We will be a game-changer for a quintet that has already seen real evidence of their impact on their fans, who have become an extended family. You Are We is already an overwhelming success as a concept, and, surely, it’s a success that will play out commercially, too.
If early single/video ‘Hurricane’ perhaps caused a few concerns that Sleeps were targeting a more commercial avenue with the prevalence of the cleaner, previously secondary, vocals of Mat Welsh pushed to the forefront, the opening titular track does much to dispel, imbued as it is with full on raging aggression. Follow-up pairing ‘Steal The Sun’ and ‘Fear’ show the blueprint for the rest of the album, excellent interplay and a real sense of team work between Welsh and harsher “lead” vocalist Loz Taylor, both playing off each other – Taylor injecting torrents of venom and invective, keeping the intensity levels high, with Welsh swinging the hooks that will bury in your medial temporal lobe after a single listen. Don’t get any preconceptions that Welsh’s cleans will be tame, either, as he feels and adds grit and presence to his melodies, regularly backed up by Taylor’s impassioned roars.
It’s an oft-banded cliché these days for bands with hooks that “every song is an anthem”, but it does apply in spades to You Are We. That opening trifecta covers all bases, then ‘Empire of Silence’ marries a more reflective verse with a slogan-filled chorus, aiming a swipe at Donald Trump: “We’re building walls where there should have been bridges… we pray for war like it’s a fucking religion, and greed is all we know”. Elsewhere, a couple of minor dips aside – still strong songs most bands would kill to have in their canon – we’re repeatedly slapped, punched and kicked with banger after motherfucking banger. And we haven’t touched on album highlight, mid-point anchor ‘Silence Speaks’, featuring a head-banging push and pull verse building to a throat-ripping cameo from Oli Sykes that, as a whole, presents the new Sleeps sound in its most perfect form.
There’s no denying this album is slicker and more melodically developed than Brainwashed. Good. It should be. No band should be happy being static, but while there is an indisputable development of the melodic side of their arsenal, make no doubt, all through the album, the guitars pound and energy permeates. And this is no faceless rhythmic chugging, these are riffs and punky explosions shadow boxing with the more restrained moments, while in and out Sean Long teases several Adrian Smith melodic licks.
The third While She Sleeps offering does everything they needed it to do. They have the full backing of a growing community of devotees and a cavalcade of new riot inducing anthemic bullets to fire at audiences both suspecting and unsuspecting. What happens next, and whether they achieve the commercial recognition three fucking strong albums in a row deserves, is, to some extent, out of their hands, but they could not have played it any better.