LIVE: Sleep Token, Northlane @ Eventim Apollo, London

By Dave Stewart

Tonight almost didn’t happen… 

For anyone unaware, mysterious genre-bending band Sleep Token had been building towards their Brixton Academy moment for a quite some time – something countless bands and artists strive to reach – after announcing a headline UK run towards the end of 2022. After growing from underground cult wonder to a not-so-underground international phenomenon, helped by a pair of stunning albums ‘Sundowning’ and ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’ and, more recently, the new year release of four incredible singles when we were barely even halfway through January, their popularity is at an all time high. That beautiful, prestigious venue would’ve provided a home for one hell of a celebration, but after the tragic incident at Brixton Academy in December that saw two deaths and numerous injuries to others, the venues license was suspended and all shows booked at the venue needed to find an alternative, including Sleep Token’s. Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo became that alternative and, for a band like this, it proved to be the perfect setting.

Before tonights long-awaited worship can get underway, Aussie metal mainstays Northlane take the stage to provide both a warm-up and a tone set for how the rest of the night is going to proceed. It’s been a long time since they’ve been in the UK and they seize the opportunity to take the room through a set full of their newer, more electronic-heavy material, which quickly proves to be a great decision. The slow burning intro of ‘Clarity’ creates so much suspense in the venue that the ensuing explosion ignites the whole crowd, and from that moment onwards they have them in their palms.

Through the pulsating heaviness of ‘Echo Chamber’, the infectious dancehall vibes of 4D, the groove-laden ‘Plenty’, the densely dark ‘Bloodline’ and so much more, the audience ebbs and flows alongside them, screaming words back at vocalist Marcus Bridge as he dances through his duties without setting a note out of place. In a set full of highlights it’s hard to pick stand-out moments, but the brief trip to their old material in the form of ‘Quantum Flux’ feels really special, and the set-closing barrage of ‘Talking Heads’ is so pummelling it’s a genuine surprise that the ceiling and lighting fixtures managed to stay in place. A perfect high-energy appetiser ahead of what’s to come, and a great reminder of how solid a band Northlane are.

Tonight’s main event is so highly-anticipated that the energy in the room feels almost uncomfortable. Every single person is restless; completely on edge, itching with intrigue, fully aware that what they’re about to witness is going to be something special. The moment that Vessel and his accompanying band step out on stage it becomes clear that special may well be an understatement. The stage is superbly lit, decorated only by the band members, a backdrop and a couple of plants, and as the evening slowly hums into action the entire room, both standing and seated, can’t hold their excitement any longer. Their set begins with two of the brand new songs, ‘Chokehold’ and ‘The Summoning’ – a bold move for any band to make, especially when the tracks have only been out for two weeks – and the crowd response is truly deafening. Everyone in attendance knows every single word. The latter in particular is a real memorable moment, with Vessel’s contrasting black metal shrieks and smooth, sultry vocals making every single person in the room drop their jaws. What a powerful way to start tonight’s proceedings, eh?

Without warning, the sounds of ‘Hypnosis’ creep into play, and things really begin to warm up. The floor widens almost immediately, the mouth of the pit slowly swallowing more and more moshers as the deep heavy riffs flood the room. The outro is particularly chaotic, with the snap of the snare drum seemingly exploding with every hit as both the brutality and energy levels continue to rise. The songs that follow this incredible opening gambit intensifies the adoration for what we’re seeing, like the fragile yet towering ‘Mine’, the gloomy ‘Dark Signs’ and the unexpected early cut ‘Nazareth’ which almost silences the venue, and the latter makes their return to newer sounds hit even harder. ‘Aqua Regia’ – a track that has only been out for a day – puts everyone in an almost trancelike state, staring at the stage in sheer wonder at the beautiful tones and stunning vocals emanating from it.

The second half of the set is highlight central. The opening piano notes of ‘Atlantic’ ring through the Apollo and summons huge cheers from the crowd, its slowly expanding atmosphere enveloping the entire room before a truly elegant explosion of aggression. ‘Alkaline’ offers a potent dose of the same, trading some of the more delicate moments for weighty haunting passages and some far more jagged breakdowns, performed so tightly that it’s almost robotic. Accompanied by a performance of their fourth new track ‘Granite’ and the dark and gloomy ‘Higher’, the latter of which receives some seriously loud chants of “the debt that I owe,” they ease into a performance of ‘The Love You Want’ that’s so powerful it’s a borderline religious experience. It’s like the entire crowd is a choir partaking in a hymn recital, and Vessel and his band are conducting them. Voices and harmonies fill every inch of the Apollo, and it’s the perfect end to a truly spectacular night. Or is it…

Sleep Token aren’t a band that really need to do encores. They don’t talk to the crowd at all during their sets so nobody ever truly knows what’s coming next – every song is a gift and their brief absence from the stage is met with cries for another chance to worship. Those cries are honoured, and they return for two monolithic performances that end the evening on a high. First up is a goosebump-inducing rendition of ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’, with its dreamlike ambience melting the hearts and minds of everyone in earshot before bursting into that towering elegant chorus and lifting every attendee along with it. Closing with the gigantic fan favourite ‘The Offering’ is the perfect bookend on the night. That’s exactly what this whole evening has been, really – an offering, from them to us, and it’s been very warmly received. As the final breakdown grinds to a halt the audience erupts into applause and cheer, and the band skulk back into the shadows having just put on a dazzling, bewitching display that entranced a sold out room, and we’re all left stunned and speechless. What. An. Evening.

Wonderfully mysterious, effortlessly charming, sonically diverse, visually engaging – there simply isn’t anyone out there that compares to Sleep Token right now, and their show at the Apollo sits them comfortably in their own league altogether. It wasn’t the Brixton show that anybody expected, but it was the theatrical spectacle that both the crowd and band deserved. Tonight almost didn’t happen, but we’re all so glad it did.