Sleep Token: Who Are They, And Why Doesn’t It Matter?
The hybrid metal band never show their faces, and their fans couldn't care less.
This hybrid metal act experienced a rapid rise in the first half of 2023, all without revealing their faces. In this piece, we explore their lineage, lore, and how they inspire unity within the unknown.
Tuesday nights tend to be quiet in Adelaide — unless Sleep Token are in town, inviting the city to join them in what they deem a ‘ritual’. A line spanning two streets ends at the entrance to The Gov, full of fans responding to the call, all prepared to worship.
The venue is jam-packed as they grace the stage, emerging from a cloud of smoke. An hour of standouts from their two studio albums, 2019’s Sundowning and 2021’s This Place Will Become Your Tomb, follows, with a few of their newer singles sprinkled in. ‘Chokehold’ serves as the spine-tingling opener. ‘Higher’ is a masterclass in its mixture of pop and metal. ‘The Love You Want’ is a serenade everyone should sing along to.
After the release of their upcoming album Take Me Back To Eden on May 19th, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see them in a sub-1000 venue like this again. The sell-out attendance at The Gov is reflective of the band’s massive 2023, which has seen them jump from under 300,000 to over two million monthly listeners on Spotify and sell out all five shows on this debut Australian headline tour.
Despite this growth in fame, Sleep Token have chosen to remain anonymous. Their faces are guarded by masks. Their bodies are cloaked by gowns. The lead singer goes by the name Vessel, and the drummer, bassist, and guitarist are known as II, III, and IV respectively. You don’t hear them talk on stage; you don’t even see them take sips of water. The identities of these mysterious figures can be attained through the trawling of songwriting credits and internet conspiracies, but those engrossed in the universe in this band choose to look the other way. Instead, the crowd sings along in unison, gushing as Vessel warbles through every track.
So how do you connect to people who cannot be seen? How does Sleep Token’s anonymity foster a deeper emotional connection? I went digging for answers.
A History Of Letting Music Speak
Sleep Token aren’t the first anonymous band in the metal scene. The late ’80s introduced us to Balsac The Jaws Of Death, alongside the other nightmare-fuelling creatures that make up the band GWAR. More recently, the horror-movie-like aesthetic of Slipknot and the eerie imagery of Ghost amassed cult-like followings during the ’00s and ’10s.
By presenting themselves as fictional characters, these bands create worlds where the tales they tell serve as a common thread that brings fans together. GWAR fans are often labeled as ‘Bohabs’, basking in the shock-value gore this group portrays. Slipknot fans are devoted to their roles as ‘Maggots’, wearing the title proudly as they unleash in the emotional catharsis of the moshpit. Ghost fans form a following called ‘The Congregation’, dedicated to the mythology the band creates throughout their music and imagery. When you’re a part of these movements, there’s no room to feel like an outcast.
These groups differ in sound and style, but all have had similar intentions behind their fictional personas. Slipknot’s Corey Taylor memorably explained: “We put a mask on and we’re not about our fucking faces. It’s always gonna be music first.” Rationalising their anonymity, Ghost’s Tobias Forge said, “what people see, hear and experience with Ghost is the result of the fact that they do not see individuals.” Like these bands, Sleep Token chooses to display their personalities in the form of their work. Fans may not be able to put names to faces, but they can learn more about the band through the jazzy piano chords of ‘Aqua Regia’, or Black Metal-esque passages of ‘Vore’.
Angelo, a fan since 2021 and an active member of the Sleep Token Discord, feels that this is one of the core components of what makes them so damn good. “Because they’ve minimised their vulnerability as people,” he tells me, “they are incredibly confident in what they do with their approach to making and performing music, and don’t care about the idea of genre.” Sleep Token continues the lineage of bands like GWAR, Slipknot, and Ghost, denying the spotlight as individuals. Instead, they let the music speak for itself.
Sleep Token is a band with some serious lore. Vessel, alongside II, III, and IV, present themselves as servants of Sleep, an ancient deity whose message they spread throughout their otherworldly imagery, merch, fantasy-rich music videos, and cryptic lyricism. This larger-than-life fiction is very much akin to the origin stories of the world’s most popular superheroes.
Comic book legend Stan Lee said, “I don’t think superpowers automatically means there won’t be any personality problems, family problems or even money problems.” These characters become someone else when in uniform, using their powers as a device to contribute to the world despite often feeling hopeless in their own lives. These tropes have made superheroes a symbol of inspiration for people across the world. This Reddit post from eight years ago poses the question “How have superheroes had an impact on your life?” The responses contained stories of people overcoming things like depression and alienation, citing protagonists like Daredevil and Green Lantern as their catalysts.
Vessel isn’t the messenger of an ancient deity until he puts on his mask, much like Peter Parker isn’t Spider-Man until he dons his costume. Their identities become shrouded in what they represent: Spider-Man champions justice and inspires strength, and Sleep Token amplifies the importance of self-care and healing that defines the deity they worship. Ollie, another member of the Sleep Token Discord, aptly describes the allure of anonymity: “Not knowing Vessel’s identity allows fans to connect to the music more deeply, finding themselves reflected back at them.” Anonymity activates the band’s powers, and Sleep Token’s art acts as the webs they weave.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The exegesis of Sleep Token’s music is a common thread throughout the Sleep Token Discord. Kuma, a fan since February, states, “On a surface level, their lyrics seem to only be about an unrequited love/toxic romantic relationship. But to me, they can also apply to non-romantic situations I’ve been in.” Angelo finds comfort in the anonymity, saying,“All you see is a hooded figure parading on stage venting out his pain. There’s ironically nothing more human than that.”
Upon pressing play on their latest single ‘DYWTYLM’, you are quickly presented with Vessel posing a question: “Do you wish that you loved me?” When isolated, this seems like a simple query of romance. But the openness of how you interpret this changes when within the context of the words that surround it. The symbolism within “Do you roll with the waves? Or do you duck into deep blue safety?” propels you into a place of thought. Here, you forget the idea of romance being the core, instead viewing the song as a narration of an atmosphere where love can’t exist. Later, Vessel croons, “Do you ever believe that we can turn into different people?”, prompting you to follow on a path of self-reflection, forgetting the atmosphere, and looking for internal reasons as to why the relationship in this song is such a struggle. No line is linear. No objective is exact. Instead, you roam around the vagueness in these verses like an open-world video game, forging your own quest towards meaning.
In fact, the ambiguity of Sleep Token is what facilitates a deeper relationship between the band and their fans. Every supporter finds a different sentiment within the symbolism of their image and words, creating talking points with others who interpret lyrics differently. With online databases like Genius, the barriers of mystique are often broken down when it comes to the meanings behind the music. With Sleep Token, you can relate every one of Vessel’s croons to your own situation.
Unity In The Unknown
Sleep Token lets the music speak for itself. They harness the idea of a hero for their fans to harness. They allow ambiguity to lead their listeners on an adventure of emotion. All these things add to the power of the band’s anonymity. You’d think for a band that facilitates this type of in-depth journey, fans would be clamouring to unmask this mystery. After all, the songwriting credits are a few clicks away, and the theories across TikTok, Reddit, and YouTube often make their way through the algorithm.
At the end of the day, however, Sleep Token fans don’t care. The packed line of punters heading into The Gov weren’t there for the scoop. The Sleep Token Discord certainly isn’t hunting down the band’s identities. Instead, they’re focusing on lore discussion and avoiding any doxxing.
I really don’t care, either. Their anonymous aesthetic allows me to bask in the atmosphere of the vulnerability their music conveys. The curiosity this band facilitates brings people together in celebration of the fandom they feel and the connection they experience. As you worship the warbles of Vessel, you’re not thinking about what’s behind the mask. You’re finding unity in the unknown.
Sleep Token’s new album Take Me Back To Eden is out now.