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It’s telling that the gap between main support Poisonous Birds and Sleep Token is filled with the ambient-yet-industrial sounds of electronic pioneers Aphex Twin. Much like tonight’s headliners, Aphex Twin blend the light and the dark, throwing any pre-existing genre stereotypes aside and commanding an enthusiastic fanbase by doing just that. Perhaps more importantly, the minimalist tones of Aphex Twin’s most sparse work sets to atmospheric tones for things to come. As Sleep Token emerge onto the stage in macabre masks and cloaks – somewhere between Wes Craven’s iconic slasher Scream, the anarchist V, and Death itself – Islington Assembly Hall is immediately transported into another reality.
Sleep Token break into debut album opener The Night Does Not Belong To God, and a thousand-plus voices fall into line. Much like the rest of their Sundowning release the track treads precariously on the very borders of metal, threatening to break down into sludgy guitars but instead offering space for soft vocal tones. The result blends together the world of pop and atmospheric metal, as the costumes and on-stage personas mirror the jarring juxtaposition. It’s all perfectly unsettling.
Just who lies behind the masks remains a mystery. Theories continue to circulate across the net; from the plausible to the far-fetched. Whether it is actually recognisable faces which remain concealed almost becomes irrelevant, what is obvious is that these are musicians are the very top of their game. There’s a palpable pain buried under the soulful vocals, and a reserved force in the overall sound. When it does teeter over the edge and explodes into the dense guitar riffs it continuously pushes against, the sound becomes nothing short of cataclysmic.
There’s very little, if anything, out there that mirrors the intense qualities Sleep Token display. They blur the line between melody and force, between heavy guitar riffs and tangible pain. The industrial breakdown of Higher sits beside melancholy anthem Blood Sport and the angelic Take Aim. It simultaneously brings light into the darkness, and dark into the light.
Grab tickets to see Sleep Token at Download Festival 2020 through Ticketmaster.co.uk.