Bands striving for total anonymity as their aesthetic can be a tricky guise to operate beneath. When identities of the musicians are intentionally left a question mark, minds will wander and seek morsels of insight that cast light upon the shadowed faces behind the instruments. There’s a propensity to understand and unveil when faced with mystery; it’s human nature. Now some will pay this anonymity no mind. Others will simply embrace this aesthetic and the mystery it harbors. Plenty other preferences exist between and beyond these mentioned, but in general I embrace anonymous aesthetics. Especially those which belly a concept, gimmick, mythos, what have you. This sort of abstract underpinning can enrich a band’s music and give rise to a spume of potentially luscious detail. It can conjure vivid imaginations that transcend the synergy of the instruments. And it can bolster compositions with themes, poetry, and imagery that exist in dimensions beyond the aural.1
Sleep Token is a relatively new quartet harnessing an anonymous aesthetic. Based in the U.K., these masked individuals worship the deity Sleep. Like Lovecraft’s mythos, ‘Sleep’ is the closest enunciation the human tongue can come to properly speaking this deity’s name. Each composition they produce is a dirge, an incantation, a musing, that pays respect to this ancient being; a token. Hence their name. Much of their sound falls on the shoulders of Vessel, a garbed individual of unknown age whose skull is cloaked by hood and a pallid veneer. Across its surface ‘ST’ is carved in crimson from runes of yore. Vessel’s voice channels the ineffable qualities of Sleep, the immemorial lore of His teachings, the beauty of life and its dark, chilling reflections. He stirs deep in our subconscious and Vessel’s invocations arouse the slumbering deity inside our dormant minds. The more fecund He becomes in our collective thoughts so does His power grow. He exists everywhere, but is nowhere.
It sounds ridiculous—and it kind of is. But Sleep Token’s eccentric music crystallizes their anonymous aesthetic quite well. A strange coalescence of indie, post-rock, post-metal, progressive metal, and other splotches of sound, Sleep Token transcend their respective amalgam of genre descriptors and melt skyward toward a sound wholly unique; they are near boundless in their classification. With their latest EP, Two, Sleep Token continues to spread His message by bestowing listeners three new offerings. These requiems bask in life’s tumultuous ebb and flow, they behold its charms and its repulsiveness, all while continuing to amass His cult following.
In darkened woods Vessel slithers and glides beneath the shadows of trees. His croon licks at the aged bark. Quiet is the meadow he circles, his vibrating cords stirring pockets of air. A lone beam of moonlight penetrates the wood mesh from above and illumines a knee-high patch of underbrush with a wan luster. The solemn ray flickers to a thumping synth-drenched rhythm on “Calcutta”. Delicate Vessel’s voice muses in passionate throes, professing love for the deity that graces him in his sleep. It is He who completes him; yet it is He who leaves missing pieces once Vessel awakes. His pitch wavers, high then hushed, swinging effortlessly in angelic limbo. Electronic thrums pulse, blowing the blades of milk white grass to a beat of thump thump thump … clap. A melody emerges from the ebon throng of night. It harmonizes with Vessel’s gait, his tongue. The clop of drums, the resonant swell of bass, the careening drift of guitar; the song blossoms into a euphoric stride. The instruments helix around the palisades a moment only to jet into the meadow’s heart and erupt in a nacreous blaze. They collapse. Then they burst moonward in post-rock flight. They climb and dance on clouds of twinkling synth, streaking across the speckled umbral canopy. It lasts but a blink. They exhaust their crescendo and ebb toward the minimal flickering rhythm as Vessel’s voice forges ahead. An undercurrent begins to tumefy. It swallows his words, drowns them in djent-drenched undulations. Only wordless vocalizations escape. The deep muffled chugs smother him in head thrashing grooves. He wails for Him. But only abyss.
The paradigm of “Calcutta” resembles the remaining tracks on Two—and even closely mirrors those on Sleep Token’s first EP, One. The anthemic harmonization of vocals with backing synth notes or piano to craft an airy tone, subsequently graced by a blooming nirvana-steeped riff; the draw back into a calm yet brooding swirl only to explode to effervescent heights. Each song is sutured in near identical structure. But their individuality is retained through small permutations in their respective passages. “Nazareth” prods Vessel into morose corners; his gorgeous voice juxtaposes with unnerving words of torture. Frosty keys in “Jericho” slice and sparkle with crystalline allure. Shifts like these allow each track stand on their own.
There’s much to adore on Two. Though their aesthetic is a titch absurd and though they may take their mythos a bit too seriously—which may fail to lull you—Sleep Token’s peculiar concoction of ethereal sound is more than enough to make you a convert. Take the plunge and worship.
1. Mind you, an artist or collective need not be anonymous to purport a fascinating mythos; the additional anonymity simply slathers a thin layer of mysterious froth on top.