Album Review: WHILE SHE SLEEPS So What?
Change is the only constant in music—and for all the talk of certain genres stagnating, stalling, and threatening to fade into obsolescence, there are plenty of bands pushing the envelope and consistently evolving. While She Sleeps have built their reputation around a continuous state of creative restlessness, and their efforts have been paying off for years. From scintillating songs to precision-guided promotional efforts, these guys are ideal role models for musicians looking to “make it” in the music business.
During While She Sleeps’ previous album cycle for 2017’s You Are We, the central narrative revolved around the band’s newfound state of independence. Taking the plunge into the risky world of crowdfunding, While She Sleeps set out to support their latest project through PledgeMusic and release it through their own record label, Sleeps Brothers. When the online campaign rampage was over, and the digital dust had settled in the wake of a frenzied metalcore-fuelled stampede, While She Sleeps had raised 286% of their original financial target—and catapulted You Are We into the British Top 10.
Although such success is naturally pursued and envied across the music world, that kind of achievement still raises new questions and challenges. We know that life isn’t like a Hollywood movie, where you overcome an apparently insurmountable challenge, reap the rewards, and the credits immediately roll as reality dissolves and fades to black. Once you’ve made your mark, where do you go from there?
While She Sleeps have been respectably transparent about their lives and personal struggles post-You Are We. The 40-minute documentary concerning the making of So What? covers everything from marriage to medical procedures, heartbreak, the endurance of physical pain, and all the assorted obstacles more traditionally associated with the creation of a record. Particularly notable in this album’s case is the decision to pair Sleeps Brothers with Spinefarm Records, the heavy-hitting metal label associated with Universal Music Group—the world’s largest music company.
For once, the internet has failed to explode with anxious speculation in response to such an apparently audacious move—and this is most likely down to While She Sleeps’ first single choice. “Anti-Social” dropped four months ago, and quickly became a hit among politically-minded metal fans, While She Sleeps obsessives, and pretty much anyone who reacts positively to balls-out riffage. It’s not really possible to accuse a band of compromising their integrity when they affirm it so effectively, cramming a wealth of timely statements into a four-minute song and accompanying video.
If you’re reading this as a longtime While She Sleeps fan, and the UMG connection does worry you somewhat, rest assured that this album is absolutely sick. All of While She Sleeps’ signature moves (serrated riffs, gut-twisting grooves, a decent helping of nü-metal attitude, and classic metalcore choruses) are present and correct, and So What? flows far more effectively than You Are We, sometimes to the point of seamlessness. That said, there are naturally a few new sonic elements for listeners to get to grips with.
Beyond “Anti-Social”, While She Sleeps spend a considerable portion of So What? incorporating elements of radio-rock and electronica into relentlessly shape-shifting heavy songs. It sounds as if they’ve been studying Bring Me The Horizon’s post-major-signing career path, and decided to avoid the dramatic stylistic shifts that, for many BMTH fans, proved intolerable. Instead, While She Sleeps have adopted a safer approach, pacing themselves and easing listeners into the latest version of their sound.
More than anything, this feels like a transitional album. There are some incredible standout moments on So What?, from Skrillex-style guitar melodies to choir vocals, petrifying tapping, plenty of over-the-top beatdowns, and even some rap-driven drum’n’bass during the penultimate track “Back of My Mind." By the time the final song “Gates of Paradise” is done, it feels as if While She Sleeps’ latest evolutionary phase is only just beginning.
So What? is a careful, perhaps overly cautious, step in a direction overflowing with new possibilities. While She Sleeps have always been about the long game, but this album will be more than enough to keep them competing in the big leagues.