Sleep Token – Take Me Back To Eden

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The hype around Sleep Token has reached inferno level – but much of ‘Take Me Back To Eden’, the group’s third album but their first as a group of multi-million-listener-magnitude, dampens the blaze rather than stokes it. Sleep Token, though some may see them as overnight sensations, have been building their cult following since their formation in 2016, using the classic moves of mystery (the band perform in masks and conceal their identities completely) and massive tunes (their previous records ‘Sundowning’ and ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’ were cuts of scorching metal-adjacent rock playing into the best-loved bits of both). It’s worked, and seen Sleep Token deliver stunning headline sets at Download Pilot, Takedown, Bloodstock… They’ve been well inaugurated into the annals of alternative history already, but when ‘Chokehold’ and ‘The Summoning’ struck at the beginning of 2023, Sleep Token were catapulted onto another level. ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ marks their first offering as real alternative household names, and for many listeners, it may well be their first Sleep Token album release. Is it an introduction that delivers on what ‘Chokehold’ and ‘The Summoning’ promised, though? 

Tracks one and two respectively, ‘Chokehold’ and ‘The Summoning’ set the stage for ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ in an incredible way. Epic, sonically diverse, nailbiting levels of tension in both their heavier and lighter sections, and a powerful, sensual performance from elusive vocalist Vessel. Even where the lyrics miss the sex levels they’re shooting for, Sleep Token redeem themselves with the dense, heady atmosphere they build. ‘The Summoning’, in particular, is victim to some clunky cliches: “I would be lying if I told you that / I didn’t wish that I could be your man / or maybe make a good girl bad” the opposite of refreshing after the rest of the track’s vivid, holy metaphors – but this thematic ballpark is one metal artists less typically play in, so credit where credit is due for filling a gap in the market, and fans don’t seem to mind it. 

However, if you go into ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ thinking that ‘The Summoning’ and ‘Chokehold’ may comprise a sort of overture, stretching you out into the record with a dynamic, captivating tour of all the corners of rock, metal, radio-rock, pop-tinged alternative + that Sleep Token are going to explore, you’re wrong. When Metallica peppered their album with over-six-minute tracks, it was self-indulgent and lacked conciseness, and it doesn’t always work for Sleep Token either. 

Some moments are impressive, like the eight-minute epic of a title track ‘Take Me Back To Eden’, which sprawls and writhes between textures and knows just when to spotlight frontman Vessel’s holy outpourings. Impeccable production and climactic builds, devolving into electro beats and rap over haunting piano then sinking into a practical pop ballad, then edging up to howling metal peak once more – it’s a marvel and pulls off all it sets out to. Numinous, majestic, and Sleep Token at their wildly varied best, ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ showcases a band that could be masters of any genre they deigned to dip into. But the issue is, this opus comes over an hour into the album, and follows a number of lengthy tracks that seem to be trying to do the same thing, but less successfully. 

‘Ascensionism’ plays with light and dark in the same way, even with similar experimentation around electronics, synths, and keys, but never quite reaches the same magnitude. ‘Vore’ errs on the heavy side, but rather than packing a punch it teases excellence in its powerful riffs and then drops back to softness to add contrast for contrast’s sake – contrasts that are already provided by other moments on the album. (Plus, it commits the unforgivable crime of having a fade-out end in 2023). ‘Are You Really Okay?’ is a ballad, but it also stretches on longer than it needs to, with a build that is too slow and no poetics that need to be dispelled. 

Sleep Token are a magnificently skilled collective, with a serious knack for anything they seem to put their minds to sonically. What would do far more justice to their skill would be a decision to trim the fat – if they’re going to go hard, then go hard, and if they’re going to go soft, go soft. Trust the moments to stand out for themselves and they will, but overindulge trying to make sure the album is laden with powerful contrasts and peaks and lows, and they all blur into one. 


Words: Ims Taylor

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