LIVE: Sleep Token / Poisonous Birds / Bledig @ Islington Assembly Hall, London

By Dave Stewart

If you know anything about Sleep Token, you know that their music is undeniably ceremonious. Birthed from a collective that are worshipping a deity themselves, the music is a product of their faith, each song acting as an offering and a display of their appreciation. Music this expansive demands elegant and grand surroundings, and their London date provided just that – the beautiful Islington Assembly Hall. With its church-like decor and massive reverb, it was the perfect setting for the evening. But before they could take the stage to utilise it, there were a couple of other bands that had their own sermons to perform for the eager attendees.

First to take the stage was Bledig, an ambient and ethereal sounding trio hailing from Brighton. Comprising a drummer, pianist, and vocalist, they make haunting and expansive tones that blanket the venue like an opaque, glistening veil. It’s immediately clear why they’re on the bill, their elegiac passages reminiscent of the night’s headliners and able to transport you to otherworldly surroundings at the blink of an eye. Their set was beautiful, hypnotising the early attendees into a state of almost complete silence, choosing to simply gaze forwards and absorb the art in front of them. No moshing, no beers being spilt, no flailing limbs – just pure, fixated appreciation, offering a soft and steady start to proceedings.

Next up was Bristol-based three piece Poisonous Birds, skulking onto the brightly lit stage amidst a sea of organ-like noise. The noise slowly swelled into an explosive guitar-led crescendo that introduced the crowd to the suspense building nature of their set, opting to stack layer upon layer until the structure has no choice but to crumble under the weight. Their sound was completely different from the openers, but again drew lots of similarities to the main event, their music leaping from atmospheric to ribcage-shattering onslaughts as their tones are stretched as far as possible before being launched towards a cosmic cadence. The set was eaten up by the hungry crowd, appreciatively head-banging and applauding their weighty tones from the very beginning of their set all the way to popular closer ‘Big Water’. A fiery and mind-bending warm-up for the ritual worship that was about to follow it.

Islington Assembly Hall was full to the brim with followers eager to worship at the altar of Sleep Token, and they wasted no time setting the scene. Not only did the venue serve as the perfect surroundings, but the pre-show music made it feel more sacred, filling its walls with calming tones and mysterious, mesmerising melodies. Those melodies slowly began to form the familiar opening notes of ‘The Night Does Not Belong To God’ and before you knew it, the sermon had begun. Front man and mysterious mastermind Vessel towered over the gathering masses, conducting them through the first hymn of the evening with note perfect precision. Energy levels hit an all new high, and each song that followed pushed the bar a little higher.

The entire set was a masterful tour of their back catalogue, bursting straight into ‘The Offering’. The heat in the venue got dialled up a few notches and the first pit of the night was born. Vessel effortlessly preached to his gathering mass, seemingly swaying them back and forth with his own hands as his collection of contributors powered through the relentless low tones and crushing breaks. The gradual build of ‘Dark Signs’ surged through the venue and sent tingles through everyone in attendance, causing mass participation when the song reached its climax.

They then opted to take the first breather in the form of ‘Levitate’, giving the venue its first real chance to shine. Vessel’s vocals darted around the room in reverberant glory, his backing gospel trio elevating them to near cosmic levels of power. Just as everyone had regained their breath, the closing crescendos appeared and thrust them straight back into the thick of things, and at that moment they became an unstoppable force. The crowd was completely transfixed, and they were four songs in. This night undoubtedly belonged to Sleep Token.

It was impossible for them to put a step wrong – every song choice was immediately eaten up by the hungry onlookers, using it as fuel to continue to empty their lungs and use up all their energy. From the colossal renditions of ‘Sugar’ and ‘Higher’ – the latter of which saw the guitarist launch himself into the crowd – all the way to the thunderous inclusion of older cuts ‘Jericho’ and ‘When The Bough Breaks’, they delivered blows from all angles with absolute precision and unwavering power. Fan favourite ‘Jaws’ was a particularly special highlight, the crowd participation bordering on deafening as they bellowed every single word back at the stage. The music slowly faded away and the band skulked away from the stage, and everything fell silent. Just as it looked like everything was over, though, they re-emerged.

Slowly creeping back onto the stage it was clear they still had a few tricks up their sleeves, but no one was prepared for the aural onslaught of ‘Thread The Needle’, their very first release from back in 2016. Every word that left Vessel’s mouth sent chills throughout the sweaty venue, the piano tones filling the surrounding space and providing a small amount of cushion for the arrival of the monolithic guitars that followed them. Not willing to go out quietly, they then closed the night with a spirited performance of ‘Bloodsport’, summoning the crowd into action for one last time. Beers were sloshed as limbs thrashed throughout the room, every single word echoing through the venue in harmonious glory until the music came to an abrupt halt, causing applause and appreciation to swell. Their fifteen song set was over in the blink of an eye, and nobody wanted to leave. They just wanted it to happen all over again.

There is simply no one else like Sleep Token. There’s just something contained within them that no one else is able to recreate. It’s not a musical trick, it’s not instrumental prowess, or a production gimmick – it’s a feeling. Everyone that indulges in their offerings does so passionately and wholly, almost as though the music is speaking and awakening something within them. The attendance at the shows, and the manner in which they play out, is unlike anything else in the genre, and completely sets them apart from the pack. This stunning sold out London show was a huge milestone for Sleep Token, but this is just the beginning. Soon they’ll be preaching to far bigger masses, and no one will be able to stop them.