Sleep Token Bring A Night Of Worship, Wonder And Connection To Wembley | Live Review

London, OVO Arena Wembley, December 16 2023

Photo: @adamrosssi

Breaking down sonic boundaries at every turn, in an alternative scene that’s evolved to see genres intertwine like cosmic threads, Sleep Token have emerged as unparalleled deities in 2023.

A meteoric rise kickstarted by the release of transcendent single ‘Chokehold’ back in January, the last twelve months have seen the mysterious masked collective explode into somewhat of a phenomenon. Inspiring a cult-like following intent on carefully filtering through the band’s extensive lore, the band’s critically acclaimed album ‘Take Me Back To Eden’ – the final part of a trilogy preceded by 2019’s ‘Sundowning’ and 2021’s ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’ – saw them hone their ambitious collision of pop, metal and R&B influences, ascending to unprecedented heights in the process.

After a year like theirs, it seems perfectly fitting that Sleep Token are rounding out 2023 with their biggest show (or ritual as the band refer to their performances) to date. An evening at London’s 12,500 capacity Wembley Arena for which tickets sold out within a mere ten minutes of their release back in June, tonight brings a packed-out congregation braced to witness the culmination of a monumental year marked by sonic alchemy.

Unveiling startling new nu-metal inspired masks for band members II, III and IV on socials just moments before their scheduled stage time, anticipation buzzes through the assembled crowd as the lights of the arena slowly dim. The stage backdrop’s iconic Sleep Token rune symbol illuminating in an ominous red hue, the haunting opening notes of ‘Chokehold’ fill the arena. The band emerging one-by-one, their ethereal leader Vessel stands alone in a spotlight at the stage’s centre to commence the night’s ritual.

A sea of thousands ready to join them in worship, a mesmerising blue glow envelopes the stage for 2021 track ‘Hypnosis’. The frontman dancing menacingly whilst encouraging the room to sway in unison during the chorus, ‘Vore’ brings a sonic assault marked by flashing green and yellow lights before ‘Dark Signs’ showcases a softer vulnerability in Vessel’s iconic vocals.

Photo: @adamrosssi

With two suspended platforms situated at either side of the stage – one playing host to drummer II and the other home to the band’s stunningly dressed backing singers ‘The Vesselettes’ – there’s an undeniable spectacle to the show’s production. Boasting a dazzlingly colourful light show dominated by lasers and a group of dancers who make their first appearance during the introspective ‘Rain’, after the 2023 track comes to a close – the evening takes an unexpected turn.

The band walking off-stage as confusion ripples throughout the crowd, after a few minutes Vessel re-emerges accompanied by a member of the band’s crew.

“So, Vessel can’t sing. But you guys can, so you guys need to sing with us. We’re doing the set; he’s staying on stage… but he’s not well.”

As the frontman embraces his colleague, an explosive roar of support erupts from the gathered worshippers. Barrelling straight into ‘The Summoning’, Vessel conducts the room, holding his microphone out towards the sea of bodies as a powerful karaoke session ensues. With II, III and IV each doing their bit to encourage the crowd too, there’s a moment of magic as over 10,000 voices unite to offer their support to the band. With instrumental performances of ‘Granite’ and ‘The Love You Want’ amplifying the power of music as a means of connection – though no words are spoken – a feeling of mutual gratitude radiates through the room as the congregation rallies behind Sleep Token.

Photo: @adamrosssi

With a wave of blue phone lights making their way into the air for poignant ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’ opener ‘Atlantic’, Vessel moves towards the piano and boldly reclaims microphone duties as the night approaches its emotional crescendo. After hitting some of the set’s highest notes on ‘Nazareth’, ‘Ascensionism’ brings an unforgettable moment of shared catharsis. The vocalist’s sobs heard as he powers through each verse, the raw emotion in his voice sparks a visceral sing-along of, “You make me wish I could disappear”, before shouts of, “We love you, Vessel!” ring out around the arena.

With expansive 2023 album title track ‘Take Me Back to Eden’ bringing the main set to a defiant close, ‘The Offering’ seems set to serve as the band’s final bow for the night. With IV donning a reindeer antler headpiece borrowed from a crowd member, as the track nears its end Vessel faces the crowd placing his fingers together to form an ‘O’ – a gesture mirrored by those stood before him – before slowly making his way to the piano.

The rest of the band making way, the vocalist delivers an expected emotional finale in the form of ‘Blood Sport’s first setlist appearance in over 18 months. Singing tearfully into his microphone before welcoming his bandmates back onstage for the track’s emotive finale, a sense of love and shared humanity flows through the arena. 

A band who have had a remarkable rise to the top of the alternative scene, tonight serves as testament to Sleep Token’s striking ability to spark connection through music. The band’s entire ensemble – including crew members – gathering at the front of the stage for a heart-warming embrace as a rapturous applause sounds out, it’s a stark reminder that this is much more than just another show for everyone standing before us. A triumphant achievement marked by a brilliantly human performance from a set of musicians at the top of their game – despite its unexpected twists and turns – there’s no doubt that tonight’s ritual was Sleep Token’s crowning moment.

Photo: @adamrosssi

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