While She Sleeps are a band who’ve always done things their own way. After leaving their label and going fully independent for the majestic You Are We (one of only a handful of albums to achieve a perfect 10 score here at Rock Sins when it came out two years ago), the band have continued carving their own path.
With their popularity at a current peak, we come to So What?, While She Sleeps fourth album. Can they sustain the momentum that has propelled them for the last two years? Released several months ago, lead single Anti-Social is the perfect kick off for So What? It’s got the riffs, it’s got an absolutely mammoth chorus and the political lyrics that were perfected so fiercly on You Are We are very much still present, though perhaps not quite to the same depth.
There are a number of songs on So What? that are eclectic, almost to the point of feeling conflicted. They will have more of a mainstream approach (at least compared to past albums) for two thirds of the song, and then it’s almost as if While She Sleeps remember their past, and then go balls to the wall heavy for the final third of the song. Some listeners may find this a slightly uncomfortable listen, while others will enjoy the variation of styles at work.
The political themes continue in abundance in songs like Inspire, but for the first time there are electronic elements and samples creeping into the While She Sleeps soundscape. There are also far more clean vocals than ever before – not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but some older fans may grate at the more accessible approach.
The blistering pace and relentless riffery of the title track make it one of the stand out moments on So What?. The little voice overlay of “You only wrote this for the money didn’t you?” before the breakdown a firmly tongue in cheek two fingers to large parts of the music world at large. It’s perhaps even self-deprecating irony, given that this is the most mainstream sounding While She Sleeps album to date.
The album’s second single, Haunt Me, is one that will likely appeal the most to the While She Sleeps hardcore fans who’ve been with them on the whole journey; Gang vocals have always been a prime weapon in the ‘Sleeps arsenal, and they are used to great effect here. Where they deviate most from their usual sound is towards the end of Back Of My Mind, where’s there is a short burst of rapping before launching into an utterly ripping solo and a gutteral cry of “BANG YOUR FUCKING HEAD” – seemlessly merging elements old and new.
It could well be that in years to come, So What? comes to be viewed as While She Sleeps equivalent to Bring Me The Horizon’s Sempiternal. On that album, BMTH got the balance of their heaviness and a new found mainstream appeal perfect before undergoing an almost total mainstream transformation in their sound. Whether While She Sleeps will choose to follow that same path, only time will tell.
What they have done with So What? is present While She Sleeps at their most accessible, while retaining 90% of what their existing fans love about them. It’s a very difficult tightrope to tread, but While She Sleeps have pulled it off for the most part with aplomb. So What? should propel While She Sleeps to ever bigger venues and greater successes, and if it doesn’t, something will have gone very, very wrong.
So What? is released Friday 1st March 2019 on Sleeps Brothers.