While She Sleeps - Sleeps Society (Cover Artwork)

While She Sleeps

Sleeps Society (2021)


Metalcore is a divisive genre these days. A lot of its fans rabidly consume pretty much anything and everything that falls within the genre walls, seemingly with little filter. On the other side, some people perceive it as being in danger of becoming creatively bereft and guilty of following a formula too rigidly. Being entirely honest, I have probably switched my allegiance from the former to the latter camp a little in the last 5 years or so. I still enjoy the sound of metalcore made well, but it rarely excites like I want it to. That being said, there are bands who exist in the scene who are pushing at those same genre walls, testing their limits and scouring them for weaknesses. While She Sleeps are one of those bands.

WSS’s last record So What? was unquestionably the biggest stylistic shift from one record to another in their career to that point. There were electronics aplenty, a greater focus on clean vocals (partially through necessity, with lead vocalist Loz having undergone throat surgery) and production that felt shinier than it had before. None of these things are a problem in and of themselves. The problem was that they all came together to create a record that still sounded like While She Sleeps but didn’t play to their strengths. It came out the same year as Amo by Bring Me The Horizon and whether you like them or not, BMTH do have a very firm grasp of how to blend modern metal with pop sensibilities and electronics. While She Sleeps’ effort felt a little crude in comparison and I honestly can’t say I went back to it much, despite being a huge fan of the prior albums. So I went into this record with trepidation. Maybe even more so because of how unmoved I was by Architects recent album and their moving further towards a sound that could be described as radio friendly. (To be fair, it got them to Number 1 over here, so maybe the ends justify the means…)

All of this waffle is merely context however, and the real story here is that with the exception of one incredibly odd choice (we’ll come to that), While She Sleeps have drawn on their experience, played to strengths where it’s appropriate and crafted a superb album in Sleeps Society. From the first seconds of opener “ENLIGHTENMENT(?)” you can tell the more contemporary production choices haven’t been abandoned, but now they’ve been woven into the songs, instead of simply being tacked on. WSS were a great band without them so there were some calls for them to dispense with that aspect entirely, but being band who do try to evolve their sound, I applaud their resolve in working on those elements and improving them to such a degree that they do now truly serve the songs. Even when the main intro riff in “SYSTEMATIC” sounds like something The Prodigy would be proud of, it still feels entirely like it fits and is true to the band’s sound.

There are, of course, downtuned, distorted riffs, techy lead work fed through a variety of pedals, huge beatdowns and rapid-fire lyrical delivery that borders on rapping (and yet still works). But there’s also a pleasant electronic, interlude (“PYAI”), a piano ballad of sorts (“DIVISION STREET”), anthemic choruses ripe for big rooms, and genuinely thought-provoking lyrics, often focused on the ills of the modern world and the mental health issues facing increasingly more of us. It’s absolutely not ‘just a metalcore album’ at this point. While She Sleeps have simply made a record that sounds like them. And it’s great.

What they have also done however, is make a 37-minute record made up of 10 tracks that all earn their place for their own reasons and then blotted their copybook in an extraordinary and spectacular way by suffixing what has come before with 7 full minutes of sub-Disney schmaltz in “DN3 3HT”. A simple, repeated piano pattern is overlaid with lo-fi spoken word messages and platitudes from each of the band’s members in turn. Themes include ‘Living their childhood dreams’, ‘You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it’, ‘We hope you know how much you all mean to us’ and ‘I hope our music will live on after we’re gone’. It’s not that these aren’t valid points, but my god is it a jarring and overly sentimental way to end a great record. I’ve just listened to it again for this review and it is one of the most grating things I’ve heard in a long time. All I’ll say is, you can stop the record before then and have a lovely time. It’s a great record, I just wish it was 7 very specific minutes shorter.