Sleep Token – Take Me Back To Eden – Album Review
Artist: Sleep Token
Album Title: Take Me Back To Eden
Date of Release: 19 May 2023
I honestly wasn’t sure whether I would even listen to ‘Take Me Back To Eden’, let alone offer a review of it. However, given the extreme buzz and fervour that surrounds it, I felt that I ought to give it a listen. At least then, I could make an informed decision to either join the clamouring hordes or allow the enigmatic masked musicians to leave me behind and do their own thing for their ever-growing army of fans.
When I reviewed the sophomore release, ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’, I concluded that it lacked that ‘something’ to fully connect with me. It felt a little too erratic as it sought to combine everything from post metal to djent, from alternative to pop, and from prog to electronic. But more than that, it was just a little too inconsistent for my tastes. Nevertheless, listeners flocked to their cause like moths to a flame. I’ll admit that I should have hung around and caught their late-night performance at Bloodstock last year, just to see if it all made sense in the live setting. However, having cooked in the arena all day in some of the hottest weather the UK has experienced in living memory, this pale, bald dude needed to head for the sanctuary of his air-conditioned car for the long journey home.
And now, here we are, with the highly anticipated third album from the UK band, whose individual identities still elude us. As with each and every one of my reviews for manofmuchmetal.net, I have given the album a more than fair crack of the whip before putting any thoughts down on paper. I have, therefore, listened to it multiple times in reaching this point. And that wasn’t easy, I can tell you, not when the album stretches out over 63 minutes and delivers the music that it does.
There are some incredible moments to be heard on ‘Take Me To Eden’. And I mean that – absolutely incredible. For example, there’s the opening track, ‘Chokehold’, and what better place to start? The song opens slowly to the accompaniment of some strange electronic sounds before Vessel joins the fray. It’s not until the third minute of the song that the heavy riffs enter, but they do so in spectacular fashion, like a proper explosion of sound that’s hard not to enjoy. From there, the song fluctuates between warm softness, and harsh batteries of down tuned brutality, embellished by a beautiful melody that I liked on a first listen, and still do nearly a week later.
The piano-playing within ‘Aqua Regia’ is really beautiful. It might be more of a quiet pop song than a rock or metal track, but the piano transforms the song into something that I can listen to and derive enjoyment from. It helps that the melodies are strong too, but the piano is the star of the show here.
When Sleep Token unleash the heaviness, the results can be pretty spectacular, as evidenced by ‘Vore’ for example. I’d prefer a different approach than the screamo delivery, but it’s a small niggle in an otherwise properly heavy, aggressive, and satisfying song. In fact, it is one of the times on ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ that makes the hairs on my arms stand on end, as the melodic intent coupled with the heaviness hits the sweet spot for me.
Speaking of sweet spots, the final minute or so of ‘Rain’ requires mention at this point. I like the way that the song builds patiently, but when it erupts in the final stages, it’s unbelievably brilliant. This. This is what I want, and I want more of it, please, Sleep Token.
Parts of the title track are delicious as well. The quiet way that it opens with the gentle sound of birdsong is beautiful, as is the ensuing delicate melodies that are brought in slowly and methodically. Lyrically, the song deserves a doff of the cap too, as it’s an emotionally-charged affair, whilst the well-placed, powerful explosions of sound compliment the minimalist subtleties nicely. I even quite like the more mainstream sections because again the piano playing adds resonance, whilst the melodies are addictive.
And to finish the album, we get ‘Euclid’. The piano of the intro is gorgeous, and I don’t mind the vocals that are heavily digitised, too. The bursts of melodically-charged heaviness are great as well, reminding us what Sleep Token are capable of.
However, I’m standing firm by saying straight away that ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ is too long. It could do with some serious editing, especially when, for every moment of brilliance as described above, there’s an ‘Ascensionism’, for example. For the first four minutes of the seven-minute track, I’m asked to endure some mainstream R&B-meets-pop song with electronic beats, strange vocal effects, and a mainstream commercial radio vibe. And then, when it changes and becomes heavier in the latter stages, the vocals of Vessel veer into screamo territory which I could do without. The gentle, stripped-back piano and vocal section is undeniably beautiful as the melodies are allowed to shine without all the modern, mainstream fripperies present to undermine them. But it’s not enough to save the song and make me want to skip huge chunks of it.
Or how about ‘DYWTYLM’, which stands for ‘Do You Wish That You Love Me’. It’s a nothing track, that doesn’t offer anything other than an irritating vocal delivery that grates, alongside the title phrase being uttered way too many times. The itch to press the skip button is overwhelming.
That same itch returns for the final couple of minutes or so of ‘The Summoning’, as well as large parts of ‘Granite’. In the case of the former, the main body of the song is pretty enjoyable, featuring nice stop-start riffing, bulldozing moments of djent/screamo aggression, soaring clean vocals, and gratifying melodic intent, embellished by a lead guitar solo or two. The drumming is great, too. But the final sequence, dominated by odd electronics and overt pop feel is utterly redundant in my opinion, and highly annoying.
‘Granite’ is unashamedly an electronic-meets-R&B song for the first half. If you like that kind of music, then fine. But I really don’t. If I did, I’d listen to it out of choice. Nothing against it per se, but it’s just not my ‘thing’ at all. I do like the melody that culminates on the words ‘I am’, especially when the heavy guitars come into play. But otherwise, it’s nails down a blackboard stuff for me.
This song also highlights another sticking point for me,- one that I’ve been wrestling with, and that’s Vessel’s vocals. Even during the bits of this album that I like, I just don’t warm to his voice at all. I am not saying he isn’t a good singer because that’s beyond argument – clearly he is. And his performances have come a long way even since the last album. But I, personally-speaking, don’t like his tones or delivery very much. There, I said it.
Ultimately, I’m torn. There are so many things about this record that I dislike, some of it intensely. But there are also some crazy good parts that I thoroughly enjoy, mainly because of the chosen melodies, genuinely powerful energy that permeates, a great riff, or the brittle simplicity of the material. The shame is that, to get to the really good bits, you have to listen to the other bits because more often than not, the band decide to mix them into the songs together. I get the argument about contrasts and dynamics, and all that, but I fervently wish that it wasn’t the case. It’s like having to pick out huge chunks of mushroom from a stew, as well as more finely chopped bits of the devil’s food – it’s exhausting, tedious, and ruins the overall enjoyment of the dish. That’s how I feel about ‘Take Me Back To Eden’, ultimately. If you like it, then fair play, and I hope you continue to get loads of pleasure from it. But I’m not one of them, so I’m likely to part ways with Sleep Token at this juncture. Ok, take your best shot…
The Score of Much Metal: 65%