Live Review: Sleep Token @ The Tivoli

29 April 2023 | 12:00 am | Emma Whines
Originally Appeared In

Bands usually find their groove in a subgenre, and their career blooms. For Sleep Token, the ability to expand and throw out the rule book was the force that set them into stardom.

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The enigmatic outfit Sleep Token have finally taken the trip down under, bringing their unique brand of metal with them - but this is different from your average metal gig. For starters, the band refer to their shows as 'rituals' and the audience as their 'congregation'. They display old runes and symbols across every album cover, dress up in black cloaks and masks, and smear their bodies with black paint. Welcome to the world of Sleep Token. 

Together since 2016, the band only gained major popularity in the last few years, with their newest singles earning millions of streams per day and quickly selling out their world tour.

Since then, Sleep Token's projected target audience has undergone a transformation. Previously, metalheads would have lined the walls of their gigs. Now, there is more variation in the crowd, with people from all musical backgrounds anticipating, possibly, their first-ever metal show. 

Tonight, that feeling of excitement and anticipation surrounded the Tivoli like a black cloud. The feeling of being some of the few that were able to snag tickets to the sold-out show, which was already clocked in an air of mystery. Four masked men running around a stage barefoot, smeared in black paint? We're all in for a wild ride. 

The show had no headliner, so when the lights dimmed, we all knew it was the real deal. The lead singer - known only as Vessel walked slowly onto the stage, clad in his usual cloak get-up. His other bandmates quickly joined him, along with three backup singers - dressed similarly - who stood as still as a statue throughout the entire performance. 

Jumping straight into one of their biggest songs, Chokehold, the energy in the room was immediately ignited with the 'congregation' keen on starting the 'ritual'. In unison, heads slammed to the heavy beat of the drums as the band settled into the evening, each musician warming up in their own time and getting into the groove. Next came The Summoning to everyone's surprise - it seemed like the obvious choice for a last song - but when the opening chords started up, everyone excitedly slipped into the new beat, lapping up the talent on display. Looking up to the balcony of The Tivoli, you could see a wall of faces entranced by this new mysterious band who seemed to be unlike any other we had seen before. 

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Similarly to the anonymity of Daft Punk, Sleep Token easily become gods onstage before taking off the mask and going about their normal lives. I imagine it would be hard to perform with that tenacity if you could be recognised in a coffee shop the next day - so as much as the masks add to the drama of the performance, they also act as a safety net, encouraging everyone to let loose. 

The band continues to whip through hit after hit, and after a while, it becomes clear just how beloved their music has become. Whether it's the luscious Alkaline from their 2021 album, This Will Become Your Tomb or the edgy and somewhat pop-inspired Granite. Their strength is their ability to switch between dark pop, progressive metal, indie, and heavy rock without breaking a sweatBands usually find their groove in a subgenre, and their career blooms. For Sleep Token, the ability to expand and throw out the rule book was the force that set them into stardom. 

Throughout the entire performance, Vessel doesn't utter a word, and yet it's still clear that he's having just as much fun as the crowd, galavanting around the stage barefoot. Switching between clean vocals and nasty screams with an ease that is almost chilling. Despite the lack of banter fitting easily into their theatrical theme, I couldn't help but feel a missing connection between the band and the crowd. Vessel continued to reach out with his arms throughout the set, almost visibly trying to grasp a connection that could have been achieved through at least a small amount of talking. 

Embarking into Hypnosis, the crowd screams, and there is a collective feeling that we're witnessing something 'other-worldly'. The band promote a set of beliefs as such, known lovingly as the Lore of Sleep Token. The story goes that they themselves are an anonymous collective united by their worship of the ancient Deity whose name is so archaic that its closest translation is 'Sleep'. Their songs are considered 'Tokens', and so the band was formed. 

As we come to the end of the set and the hypnotic chimes of Sugar fill the room, punters gather close, with some climbing on shoulders and others scrambling to get on chairs and benches. Collectively we sing along, reminiscing in the last moments before the band exit the stage without another word.