Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Experimental Metallers ‘SLEEP TOKEN’, have me heading back to Birmingham’s O2 Academy on yet another school night. My third trip to the West Midlands in a week. 2023 has kicked off with some great gigs and it looks like this is going to continue moving forward.
Tonight’s delve into the band, a collective of secrecy and anonymity, has already sold out most, if not all of the venues across the bands 5night UK tour, which incidentally starts tonight in Birmingham.
Having already dropped a couple of singles earlier in the month, ‘Chokehold’ and The Summoning’, the band have set the scene for the next few weeks. Coming in hot from a European tour in support of the Architects, the band are riding high as they bludgeoned their way around the European venues assimilating society, like the infamous collective, the Borg, as they go.
On with them tonight is the very capable ‘NORTHLANE’, who were also on the recent European tour. This Aussie Metalcore band, formed in Sydney back in 2009 and to date have six studio albums to their credit.
The healthy crowd streams back around the corner, they’re all chatting away excitedly as I take my place. Before long, my bag is searched and I’m allowed to collect my Pass. It’s great to be in the warmth of the venue, outside the temperature had dropped to -1C and was to carry on to -4C I’d been informed.
The venue soon fills up, fans are running to get on the barrier. After touring with the Architects up until very recently, across Europe, it’s encouraging to see that this ‘Ritual’ is only 200 tickets short of a complete sell out. These will most probably be taken by walk ups!
With the lights off the stage is black; the cheers ring out as the lights start to strobe as NORTHLANE hit the stage just after 8pm. The bouncy keys sound out alongside a gentle vocal. The keys build and the words are repeated, the intensity is raising and before long it breaks into blast beats from the drums and a growled frayed vocal, full of anger. The two guitars are fizzing along as they spin and dance along. Vocalist Marcus Bridge is straight on it he’s flying from side to side as, Josh Smith, sitting low and masked is killing the beats.
The crowd are bouncing along in the blue light, the low-level blinders strobing at an epilepsy inducing pace, as this song continually switches gear, the programmed keyboard sounds are powering along as we finish ‘Clarity’ and sail into ‘Plenty’ both from the 2022 album Obsidian.
This continues with the cacophony of sounds. A striking drum beat thumps you square in the chest as the screamed vocal smashes your senses, the crowd are loving it. The hands are up and the floor is bouncing to the beat.
‘Echo Chamber’ is next, and again it’s from the latest album and was the first single dropped from it when it was released. This has a more melodic beat, but Marcus Bridge is never far away from that frayed vocal as this one motors on.
The lights flash and pulse, as the crowd bounce along. The breakdown finish to the song is both dirty and angry. ‘XEN’ finishes the brief run from Obsidian. Another thundering attack on the drums book ended with scorching distorted guitars and a programmed back beat. Marcus deftly swirls his vocal around the intricate layering. He’s playing to the crowd who are lapping it up. Catching him in a flash of light, you’d be excused for thinking it was a slimmer Jack Black. His hair and beard adding to the illusion. If only Jack Black had his musicality!
The 2019 album Alien gets a feature as the band Explode into ‘4D’. the rock beats from the kit and the swirling keys build as this song powers along. Mask wearing John Deily is busy at his ‘station’ throwing down the programmed beats as Marcus’s stunning vocal has the hairs on your neck at attention.
Sizzling guitar and a thundering beat has the breakdown peeling the skin from your face, ferocious and on the money, brilliant, and then straight into a soft vocal and a guitar run, nice mash up of textures. Another crowd favourite as the girls on the front seem to know every word.
Well, that was brief as we jump forward to the fourth single, dropped one month before the release of the 6th album, ‘Carbonized’ is also from 2022. Its scowled vocal and heavy beats thrust this one into your face. The lights are moody as they battle with the tune, occasionally they light the venue up as Marcus, in black, engages with the crowd before spinning off around the stage.
The 2013 track ‘Quantum Flux’ is up next. This is the oldest song played tonight from the album ‘Singularity’. Its clean programmed keys and punching intro soon drop into a brief moment of rage before Marcus show’s his mellower vocal for a moment or two. It soon breaks into a hurled rage of frayed guttural screams and roars. The song was put together with original vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes, however ‘Jack’, I mean Marcus is killing it and very much making it his own, as it drones to a conclusion.
Again, tonight has been a proper airing for the Obsidian as we get ‘Clockwork’, another from this fine album. The beats and vocal are twisted together as the song powers along again full of screams and growls and a thunderous drum line from Nic Pettersen, he’s been busy behind his mask. Bouncing bass and fizzing guitars complete the sound layering of this one.
Marcus takes a moment to thank the crowd, he explains who the band are, I think the crowd know as they scream and cheer. ‘Bloodline’ quickly follows from 2019’s Alien. This is a powerful number based on vocalist, Marcus Bridges somewhat turbulent upbringing. A solid wall of sound hits the back wall and rattles the bottles in the optics of the bar. Again, the breakdowns are dark and menacing throughout this thundering track. He must have had a bad childhood.
With only two songs left Marcus tells us there’s no time to waste, and then there’s a pause as the programmed sounds are started. ‘Cypher’ continues the theme which is quickly wrapped into the final song, the 2019 track ‘Talking Heads’.
This was the second single dropped from the Alien album on 5th June 2018, it’s another hammering of the senses to finish the night off. Flashing lights and gargantuan screams combine to flatten everything in its path. It’s a crushing number that seems to ebb and flow dramatically and then suddenly finishes. Oh ok, well as an introduction to Australian Metallers, NORTHLANE that was a text book support slot. They thoroughly beat the crowd up and left them wanting more, stunning stuff indeed.
As the stage is reset and dressed for ‘SLEEP TOKEN’, fans flood to both the merch stand and the bar. The venue is full without a doubt as they squeeze and push their way past folk un willing to yield. Part of the fun of a sold-out venue.
SLEEP TOKEN are a London based band formed in 2016. The story goes that they are united in the worship of an ancient deity that was identified to them as ‘SLEEP’, who apparently appeared to the band’s vocalist ‘ VESSEL’ in a dream.
The anonymity is carried out by the wearing of masks, daubed with Rune symbology. The band are known as a collective and not by given names, although the singer is entitled ‘VESSEL’. They say the band is about what they offer not who they are, identities are unimportant. They refer to each show as a ‘Ritual’, and at a few minutes late the Birmingham ‘Ritual’ has begun.
The stage is bathed in a dim blue light, the back part of the stage has a full width riser, Stage right has three microphone stands, the centre has a keyboard, and to each side of which are pots of fern leaves. On stage left is the drum kit.
The lights have dimmed and the crowd have gone nutz. As the lights pulse, albeit dimly, each member of the band appears as ‘Chokehold’ the single dropped earlier this year pipes up. The crowd cheer for each ‘covenant’ member as they appear between the pulses of light.
The phased background builds, swirling as it does so. This shape walks to the front his face obscured by a white painted mask with red rune symbology painted on it. His skin has been blacked out, to further hide his identity. ‘Vessel’ has appeared and quite honestly the crowd have gone through the roof.
The ambience is somewhat cathartic but it builds to a frantic breakdown. Lights strobe hard and fast as ‘Vessel’ Spins and dances across the stage. The guitars on either side are pulling shapes and moves in slow motion. At the back, stage right, we have three silhouetted figures standing to attention behind the microphones.
‘The Summoning’ follows on, this is its live debut, again another single dropped earlier this month as a single. The dirty guitars fizz around the vocal as it builds to a round of blast beats and screams. ‘Vessel’ is racing around as he conducts his sermon. A tasteful solo rings out, sounding at odds with the elecro-layers happening around it.
The chugging section laced with electronic overtones leads into a choral type swirling keys section, a moment of peace amongst the chaos it would seem. In fact, there is a Mike Oldfield tubular bells, feeling to the moment. Looking at the set list its clearly set into five movements, each separated by an interlude, one of which is happening now, lights are low and the stage is empty of characters momentarily.
‘Hypnosis’ from ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’ has Vessel thrashing about on the stage in a ritualistic style dance fury. The beats are slammin’ hard as it brings the crowd to their toes. Lights flash as the snare snaps crack over the deliberate lyrical delivery.
A mic stand has appeared which gives ‘Vessel’ a chance to thrash about some more without a mic in his hand. His lyric has taken on a mystical middle eastern style chant., before it turns dark and moody. Mr bassman kicks and dances around as guitar man stands and pulls shapes, as the song blasts along. There is something akin to GHOST’s, Anonymous ghoul characters in their performance.
The crowd join in with the vocals to ‘Mine’. Vessel is now up front and bathed in fingers of light from behind, he gestures as he sings, conducting the crowd, before the wall of sound blasts out and he momentarily hits the floor. Mr Bassman is punching the air as the lyric continues before dropping to the floor himself, as the bass slams into your chest once again.
‘Vessel’ paces back and forth almost continuously, his vocals has taken on a yodel as he diphthongs between notes, finishing to rousing applause from the congregation gathered.
‘Dark Signs’ continues with the ritualistic theme of the night. From there 2019 album Sundowning. A nice simple bass drones as a tom-tom beats the rhythm. The song moves on in a slow deliberate manner, the vocals seem haunting as the layers harmonise effortlessly. The wall of sound suddenly jumps up a level before it drops back to another of the many quieter moments. The vocal swoops and soars along-side the percussive high-hat rattle. This is a great tune and shows where the band has come from.
With droning bass and a set full of pink and magenta we rock into ‘Nazareth’. Once again ‘Vessel’ has you mesmerised by the simplicity of this intro, his vocal is on the money, his head voice is great. Wandering around delivering the lyric, he’s certainly getting his step count in tonight, as he does so the crowd have started clapping along.
During the breakdown he goes back to the keyboard, once again and the lights and sound go into overdrive. The guitars are dancing about, Bassman is kicking out as he rumbles out his/her distorted riff. The night continues with great energy.
The crowd are totally invested in the band as the drums beat along as a steady pulse. ‘Vessel’ is walking back and forth, his fist clenched as he preaches to the faithful. There is something of Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’- like about ‘Vessel’s chosen facial attire which, at times comes across more as an occult look than an ancient deity unified by ‘Sleep’.
However, the performance of each song, so far has been captivating. ‘Aqua Regia’ is another live debut that goes down well with the congregation in for the ritual. It’s another simple, layered tune that shows how far the band has come. This ambient metal tune leads into another Interlude.
The crowd erupt when they hear the keyboard intro to ‘Atlantic’. Picked out in spots, ‘Vessel’ is once again tickling the ivories on the keyboard set up central to the stage. The crowd cheer as the lights dim only for them to brighten when the singing starts again.
The rest of the band eventually join in with the thundering beats bouncing around the venue. Guys and girls either side of me are singing along to this shoegaze type anthem.
Alkaline’ has the honour of following on. Vessel has now moved from his keyboard and is stood arms outstretched before running down to the microphone at the front. Bright lights flash and pulse from the blinders as the song builds. The bass is deep, as Bassman is high kicking, the low rumbling thunder is rattling your trouser legs as it pulses through you.
This was the third single from the 2021 album ‘This Place Will Be Your Tomb’. The staccato sections within has the crowd nodding along as a sea of one. Another live debut follows, ‘Granite’ carries on with a pulsing electro’ beats that are so typical of the band. Interestingly there are no recordings on public view for either this track or the earlier Aqua Regia. These ‘new’ songs possibly indicating that the new album, tentatively titled, ’Take Me Back to Eden’ is possibly due for an early release.
‘Higher’ from 2019, carries us on after the crowd’s screams have died down. ‘Vessel’ is again pacing back and forth as he sings to all in his ‘clean’ voice.
The stage is bathed in blue light as the drums are tickled in a percussive explosion. Bassman is again wandering around, his arms reaching out as ‘Vessel’ sings, animatedly. The bass has an orchestral cello feel to it as it swells through-out the song which finishes in a flurry of lights. ‘The Love You Want’ brings us to the next interlude, or the end of the set.
The crowd, with arms stretched out sing along as the bass throbs quickly, well its more of a low rumble that you feel. Fingers of light emanate from the back of the stage as this fan favourite builds, as do the claps as ‘Vessel’ sings about “still being full of the love”. This slower number is a great tune to finish the set on.
The encore consists of two favourites from 2019’s Sundowning album. The band come back onto ‘The Night Does Not Belong to God’ which is sung as one.
The band in silhouette throw shapes whilst ‘Vessel’, again, directs the crowd as they sing ‘the night goes down like heaven’ repeatedly. This early song from the band shows the progress made with the subsequent two albums, there is a confidence in the newer material that seems to have replace the naivety of the early tunes. The band pull some worship-able shapes as the song dies, again heavily backlit through the ever-present smoke.
‘The Offering’ closes the night out. The crowd are on their toes once again, as the band crank it up a gear to finish with. Drums crash and lights flash around before the quietness and ‘Vessel’ starts to sing. The crowd are with him. The bass is banging out hard as the wall of sound has the crowd bouncing along. The varied layers of sound push and pull at your senses.
With yellow spots strobing around the stage the crowd let loose with a circle pit only for it to die out moments later. The pulsing bass and sizzling guitar are together on stage right as they wind the song up. Vessel comes down from his keyboard alter and bows to the crowd before exiting and leaving the crowd wanting more.
OK two new bands for me this evening, both knocked it out of the park in their own unique way. Both are well worth the ticket price so if you are toying with the idea of going to a show then make it quick as they are sold out or very close too, it’s obvious why when you see them live. This has been another great night at Birmingham’s O2 Academy!
Now the drive home before it snows.