Sleep Token & Northlane Live Review From Bristol’s O2 Academy, 21st January 2023

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Sleep Token at Eventim Apollo, London, by Matt Higgs

With the rollout of new singles that started on the fifth day of the year, SLEEP TOKEN have been the most talked about band thus far in 2023. Returning home after a run of shows in Australia supporting ARCHITECTS, the remaining tickets for their UK “rituals” were snapped up with the release of new music from one of alternative music’s most beloved and yet somewhat divisive bands. As their loyal UK followers gathered to give worship, it’s clear to see why both of the previous statements are so true. 

Kicking off proceedings by making the trip over with them from the land down under was NORTHLANE. The release of their sixth full-length album Obsidian felt like it went somewhat under the radar due to the lack of live shows and intensive release schedule. Now able to get the new material out in front of people, they’ve started to get some of the praise that was due. After winning a lot of people over with their evolving sound on 2019’s Alien, the previous two records dominate the setlist and that’s the correct card to play. 

They’ve always been a sturdy live band but the material from their last two releases breathes some much-needed life into the live set. With a clearer sense of identity and some set highlights in the forms of Bloodline and Carbonized, the live show is in a much better place thanks to their creative choices on record. It’s by no means the finished article and considering (aside from Quantum Flux) you’re only hearing material from the last four years, you’re left feeling like they do one thing. The positive flip on that is that they do it well. 

Overall score: 7/10

SLEEP TOKEN are a difficult band to summarise when they’re coming through your speakers let alone when presented with their music right in front of you. It would be very difficult for anyone to argue that their visual elements (in all forms from artwork to appearance) and individual skill doesn’t line up with the fanfare that they attract. What does seem to leave some listeners alienated is the actual music, whether it’s a matter of personal taste due to their wide inclusion of genres or a lack of memorable tracks. 

Those factors also come across in the live environment. Their image and performances are so strong that they are guaranteed to win people over and get them talking during a support slot or festival appearance. When you’re in their place of worship, it’s a very unique experience and that’s both the big selling point and one of the holdups. 

If you’ve bought a ticket, you are buying into the fact that with their mix of genres, the show will have peaks and valleys. The opening three songs in the setlist are very high peaks. Whilst ChokeholdThe Summoning and Hypnosis all have their quieter moments that demand patience from the audience, they pay off in big spectacular fashion. At points in all three selections, they have the ability to blow your socks off in all kinds of different ways. The Summoning in particular is one hell of a live statement. 

From this point, after they’ve just shown you what they are capable of, you get some diminishing returns. As previously mentioned, you know when you’re going to a SLEEP TOKEN show that there will be valleys due to the slower nature of the majority of their material that’s alternative because of the way it is presented and not so much in sound. Swapping out the djent riffing and darkness beneath the surface for brighter more speculative passages. 

For some, the ability to have both facets in one set will be the draw but after kicking the door down with the opening run of tracks, it feels like you’re getting a glimpse into a special band instead of the full force. For a large portion of the set, there will be members of the audience who are entirely engrossed with what they are hearing and seeing. At the same time, there’s an aura of everyone waiting to see what’s next and whilst that’s partly down to how unique the band is, it sure does feel like a lot of waiting at points. 

Some other set highlights come in the one-two punch of Atlantic and Alkaline back-to-back. Whilst they’re arguably the two most approachable tracks, they’re great at fulfilling their promises. Atlantic is the best example of their slower material and is a great stripped-down moment that unfortunately adds to the show feeling like a crawl due to its placement. Alkaline is a much-needed boost as their most straightforward “banger” that showcases their ability to combine all of these different elements into something that still feels unique and exciting.

Even at their most divisive, SLEEP TOKEN never fails to be an interesting proposition that demands conversation. The kind of questions you would usually have about other bands i.e. what do they sound like? Are they good live? Just doesn’t really seem to fit. Their live “rituals” are 100% worth it alone for an experience that will leave you with questions and that’s simultaneously the best compliment and a criticism. Currently, it feels like there’s a bit too much waiting in between the devout worship that they seek.

Overall score: 

7/10

Photos captured by Matt Higgs at the London, Eventim Apollo show. Check out more in the live gallery below.

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