In their debut full-length album, Michigan’s Sleep Waker adventurously prophesy the future of their metalcore genre. While the meat-and-potatoes fare of breakdowns and lyrical indignation are still happily present (Turnaround, Tongues), here they are garnished by varied textures and experimentalism usually monopolized by prog (Eclipse) and even black metal (the finale of Tongues). This results in an eclectic and most importantly balanced flavor; pure romps like Hell (picture being ferried by Charon during a tsunami) do not crowd out the plodding, Gary-Holt-ness of Broken Teeth, nor the Pessoan vulnerability of Dream Eater. Each track-change signals a new treat is inbound, like alternating between sides A & B of Black Flag’s “My War.” And while the band’s eastern/narcoleptic aesthetic (Relief) and mosh-pit affinity (Breathing) as seen in their EP “Lost in Dreams” are still intact, there is something new here that I can only classify as mature storytelling. Title track(s) Don’t Look at the Moon and Don’t Look at the Sun unfurl like narration from Lovecraft or Hidetaka Miyazaki–the vaguer the horror evoked, the more real It becomes. Thematically, the album is cut with a timely dread that should appeal equally to anti-Trump or pro-Qanon hysteria, for by telling us to forebear looking at the heavenly bodies, it suggests that whatever transcendent truth awaits us there is not the welcomed kind. “Don’t Look at the Moon” testifies to the band’s hard-earned self-confidence–but, at the same time, one gets the sense that this is far from the final form of their evolution.
Disclosure: the author of this review personally knows one of the band members.