This began a year ago. I was excited about the newest Sleep Token release, but it felt underappreciated. I wanted to write about what a complicated piece it was, but…
I couldn’t finish. For a lot of reasons, I struggled to find a way to the end. Time. Inspiration. My day job as a middle school teacher. Parenting. Being a husband and friend. Freelancing for other sites.
Yet, here I am. A year later. Relistening to this Sleep Token album and crying in my car. I felt compelled–as if by nature–to listen to This Place Will Become Your Tomb–released September 22, 2021–in a time of distress. I reached for it as a sort of uncomfortable crutch.
Even before this album, much has been made of Sleep Token’s lore. They wear masks. The singer’s name is Vessel. What other band is the singer in? Is it the dude from…? The members claim to W O R S H I P an ancient deity named Sleep. It’s intriguing ephemera, but at the end of the day, Sleep Token is a band. The folklore surrounding this band is simple misdirection. Sleight of hand. Like any magic trick, the gap between expectation and experience increases drama and speculation. There is suspense in the unpredictable. Dissonance reigns supreme.
To hear This Place Will Become Your Tomb is to know the unexpected.
Sometimes, the unexpected comes packaged and delivered like this deviant piece of art. Other times, it’s seeing your phone explode with notifications walking from a meeting with a master teacher to your own classroom. The transcribed voicemails and text messages tell you that your wheelchair-bound mother has likely had a series of strokes and she’s headed to the hospital. The unexpected is more satisfying when it’s ambitious auditory stimulus.
The heavy eyelids of “Atlantic” open the album with twinkling keys and a vocal melody so achingly beautiful the listener is lulled into a false sense of tranquility. The facade of peace is short-lived. Vessel’s pagan gospel conjures dark shadows filled with the barren branches of, “call me when they bury / bodies underwater / it’s blue light over murder for me / crumble like a temple / built from future daughters / to wasteland when the oceans recede.”
The uneasy pairing of pretty and pain comes to a head. The song goes inky dark. Unseen tentacles grab and squeeze the listener as a synth track is overrun by crunchy guitars and haunted drum fills blasted from the vacuum of space. As far as openers go, this one sends a clear message: prepare for anything.
And anything is exactly what you aren’t ever prepared for no matter how much you pretend to be. A celebration of the unexpected is always a gamble that will eventually sink incisors, rip, and tear.
Part of the band’s dissonance can be attributed to their unholy camouflage. At first, the songs read like love ballads. When you consider Sleep Token’s allegiance to Sleep, a supernatural deity the band claims to W O R S H I P, the lyrics become twisted propaganda for a devious supernatural being on the second pass. But they don’t really worship some weird monsters like some cult in a Stephen King novel, right? And the space created by that plausible deniability provides the freedom for the kind of honesty Vessel himself may not have in his daily life.
The intentional misdirect makes the lyrics and beauty/rage motif feel more desperate when the listener recognizes the artist’s clear desire to connect. The human being called Vessel allows himself the freedom of honesty while wearing the armor of perceived artistic anonymity. Forlorn and seeking--just like we all are--Vessel’s naked desire for meaning and purpose is alluring. Palpable. Perhaps comforting in a time when so many of us are choking on indifference.
The album occasionally fulfills the expectation of dramatic give-and-take song structure. Songs like “Hypnosis” give the album a dose of the “Jaws," “Calcutta," “The Offering," “Nazareth” formula that many Sleep Token fans pine for. Vessel croons “You know you hypnotize me,” in the way a helpless snake concedes defeat before devouring a bird.
Other songs like “Mine," “Like That," “The Love You Want”--an absolute standout track on this album–, and “Alkaline” follow a similar trajectory: pretty, creepy song collapses into itself like a rusty chainsaw through a rabbit. This is the dynamic that drew us in. We want to see something beautiful destroyed by any means necessary.
We want femur-rattling djent breakdowns run through a dirty reel-to-reel projector played under a haunted circus tent in the woods. We want tequila to chase the milk and honey. However, there’s more maturity and explicit composition than the simple juxtaposition of porcelain and rust. Beneath the veneer of this band’s carefully crafted aesthetic is something painful. There is truth in the lie.
The restraint of vocoder-laden “Fall for Me," the brief flex of raw power in “Telomeres," the palpable yearning of “Distraction," and the creeping dissociation of “Descending” is proof that Sleep Token’s music is possessed by truth and nuance. This album is populated by pockets. Microcosms. Moments within moments. Beauty holding hands with sadness. A demolition crew with an acute sense of comedic timing. The insanity of religiosity wearing church robes. This Place Will Become Your Tomb.
Like being reminded the sacred vessel that gave you life is a fragile and imperfect person, the line between rage and despair on this album is thin and malleable. The listener. The son. Is broken into fractions. Unsure of what to expect, hoping for the best, terrified of the worst. A brother and sister you haven’t talked to in years. How will it go? Maybe this pain will bond you. Maybe the past will be too evasive to bury and will stain every bit of small talk.
Is it getting better or are we about to plan a funeral?
This isn’t the metal album of any year because This Place Will Become Your Tomb more prominently features instruments, phrasing, tempos, and atmosphere not associated with the disintegration of bones, but it is an album that reminds you what’s possible when people decide to make music instead of genre-approved content. TPWBYT reminds listeners that a band can be heavy without chugging the walls of every venue into oblivion.
W O R S H I P? Maybe not. This album isn’t for everyone. When you’re ready, enter this place with an open mind; embrace the ethereal. This album exists in the place between spaces.
Silence and a deafening roar. Pianos and breakdowns. Awe and terror. Immortality and extinction.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to my mom. Maybe she’ll get better. Maybe not. I’ll hope for the best possible recovery, and that’s really all I can do. Perhaps my estranged siblings and I can find common ground and be there to support our mom. I’m angry this happened. It isn’t fair, but who am I to assign such values to an event so far beyond my control? For now, at least I have Vessel and his aggressive sadness to fill my car ride to South Bend.
Like This Place Will Become Your Tomb, life is filled with moments. Surprise. Exasperation. Optimism. Violence. All packaged together.
In context, it all makes terrible, beautiful sense.
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Tagged: sleep token