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SELF HELL: While She Sleeps

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Nerve Gas

March 29

In July 2022 I made the last-minute decision to purchase a ticket to see While She Sleeps play on a Thursday night in Melbourne at 170 Russell.

Despite them being a well-established band of some 17 odd years now, at that time I had only dipped my toes in the While She Sleeps waters, so going to this gig was more of a ‘because I can’ move than anything, and besides, one of my best mates was going, so why shouldn’t I tag along?

Now, judge away or whatever, but I confess that I’m the kind of hippy that likes to believe in things happening for a reason, or things being placed in our paths, so I have decided I was divinely guided toward While She Sleeps that night.

“Isn’t this supposed to be an album review?” I hear you ask. Yep, it is, trust me, I’m getting there, but I’m trying to paint you a bit of a picture first.

You see, I fell head over heels in love with While She Sleeps that night in July of 2022. I had never seen energy that matched what this band brought to their performance that night, and I haven’t seen it matched since (with the exception of the following two times I’ve seen them live). They were tight, they were passionate, they were loud, they were inclusive, they fostered camaraderie, they interacted with their audience with genuineness, they sweated, they crowd surfed, they led crowd chants and they gave 110% to the show and the sense of unity I felt within the walls was palpable, and akin to taking a party drug.

What is this feeling? I want more!

The next day I set about immediately consuming the entirety of their back catalogue and I was ashamed that I had been sleeping on this band, but man oh man, was I instantly a devotee of the Sleeps Society from that moment forward.

I guess what I’m doing here is long-windedly prefacing this review by warning you that I’m a fan, and now that that’s out of the way, I can proceed with the review…

While She Sleeps are set to release their sixth studio album, Self Hell, on Friday March 29.

It was like Christmas had come early when this one landed in my inbox for review. While I sit in this privileged position, headphones on, listening to Self Hell for probably the 83rd time, allow me to attempt to string the words together eloquently enough to portray the excellence of this album.

Peace Of Mind is the 1 minute 20 opening introductory track. It feels like a call to action. Thundering drums lead the charge in building tension as a vocal chant adds to the intensity, leading the listener straight into the mouth of Leave Me Alone, the band’s most recently released single.

Leave Me Alone emerged as recently as March 20, so it’s brand spanking new, and could be a song that’s a slow burn for some in that, if you’re not paying close attention, then you might be inclined to dismiss it. For me, this song’s lyrics were the first that I found myself singing along with (excluding the singles that had already been released). A quick peruse over the sub-Reddits indicated that alot of fans were disappointed with Leave Me Alone and I do wonder if the song isn’t ‘single material’; perhaps segregated from the album, it doesn’t quite hold up. Unlike other listeners, I have had the privilege to hear it ahead of release within the context of the album, where, to me, it sits beautifully. I’d encourage anyone who isn’t sold on Leave Me Alone to persevere with the song. I think it will grow on you.

Preceeding Leave Me Alone is the energetic Rainbows. There are some fun electronic effects laced throughout this one, and its melodic chorus makes it a catchy standout on the album. A deliciously classic metalcore breakdown will satisfy fans of the genre. The signature stylings of guitarist Sean Long are also highlighted on this track.

Rainbows trails off to the sound of rainfall when vocalist Loz Taylor’s voice calls “Let’s praise the love inside of us” and the snare drum motions you to follow the band into Self Hell, the album’s titular track.

Self Hell was released as a single in September of 2023. At the time of its release, there were many fans online vocalising criticisms of this song, too, making me feel that perhaps it was a good thing that I was late to the While She Sleeps party. Is there a level of jadedness that I’ve missed by not being a long-time fan? Because I think this song absolutely slaps! It’s certainly the most commercial sounding song on the record, and throws back to early 00’s nu-metal, rap-metal qualities, but its sing-along elements are top tier. There are electronic aspects that give me Prodigy vibes, too. On surface level, I could see how some may fob off this one as gimmicky sounding, but I implore listeners to don some headphones and give your attention to the layers. And the lyrics – “let’s praise the love ‘cause it’s all we’ve got, take it as it comes there’s enough self hell for everyone” – this feels poignant in our current societal climate.

Wildfire follows on from Self Hell. We hear more of those thundering drums that are prominent throughout the album. “There’s a fire, it is burning in my soul, and it’s brighter than it’s ever felt before” Loz Taylor croons. This is a song that gets bigger and bigger as it progresses, peaking and ending with another delicious solo by Sean Long.

No Feeling Is Final is a moody yet tranquil instrumental interlude that features Japanese electronic producer, Aether, providing a sonically sublime and emotionally dense contribution. It could be considered a kind of auditory palate cleanser in preparation for the listener’s descent into the second half of the album.

Dulcet and gorgeously plucked clean guitar tones ease you into Dopesick. The lyrics “I’m getting high, I’m getting low” are heard somewhere off in the distance before the delightfully abrasive distorted guitar kicks in, and huge drums, followed by commanding vocals. Dopesick features Fin Power, vocalist and guitarist of ‘post-apocalyptic Scally rock’ band, Stone, the second of three feature artists on the record.

It has a real feeling of desperation about it, the sensation of rock bottom. Often the emotions within a song are carried by the lyrics alone, but this song sends its message across powerfully, both lyrically and sonically.

Where Dopesick brings the mood down, Down rectifies that like a big ol’ kick in the arse! This is a song I have given a fair flogging up to this point, as it was released as a single in December 2023.

Featuring Alex Taylor of Malevolence, Down is a HUGE track and the epitome of what a great metalcore song is, in my humble opinion. It has big riffs, big screams, cleans that demand the listener sings along at the top of their lungs, emotive lead guitar, a tense build and and a savage break down. It’s the whole package and a definite stand out on the album.

But if we’re talking about standing out, then track 9, To The Flowers, stands out like a shining beacon in a winter’s fog. Call me over the top, but the goosebumps this track induces pushes me to consider it a low key masterpiece.

It’s another song I’ve had time to sit and become acquainted with; its release as a single was in February and it was accompanied by a masterfully self produced short film that is beautifully tragic and emotionally charged.It is a passionate and emotive five minutes and five seconds of raw expression, touching on grief, love, death and pain, and begins with possibly one of the best lead guitar parts ever written. You heard me. This is the album’s piece de resistance, hands down. If this song doesn’t stir some feels in you, then please have someone check your pulse.

After the emotional journey of To The Flowers, Out Of The Blue changes things right up. It’s an electronic track with nods to artists like Aphex Twin. I’m not sure everyone will appreciate these moments on the album but I like the space that it creates for the record to be a diverse musical ecosystem.

Positioned strategically as the penultimate track on Self Hell, Enemy Mentality emerges with its ominous prelude that seamlessly transitions into a powerhouse chorus. This track adds to the band’s existing list of songs that offer audiences enthusiastic sing-along moments during live performances.

Departing from the metalcore roots, Enemy Mentality leans more within the realm of nu-metal, a divergence that may irritate some fans but is a welcomed evolution for those of us who appreciate the versatility of both genres.

Serving as a poignant precursor to the album’s conclusion, Enemy Mentality effectively navigates the dance between intensity and restraint, and is skillfully placed in the second last spot on the record, contributing to the cohesive narrative of Self Hell.

Closing out the journey, Radical Hate, Radical Love evokes the spirit of classic nu-metal albums of the early 00’s, culminating in an acoustic rock ballad that radiates timeless emotion. Moody and emotive, the track ignites a wave of introspection, eliciting those iconic ‘lighters in the air’ moments that epitomises the essence of rock balladry.

I admit to grappling with the lyrical depths but Radical Hate, Radical Love appears to delve into the intricate interplay of contrasts – exploring the nuanced balance between darkness and light, hatred and love. Whether serving as a commentary on life’s dichotomies or simply a personal reflection, the song’s evocative atmosphere leaves a lasting impression.

While She Sleeps is a band that fosters a dynamic connection between the band and its fans, I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes and ears in a live setting three times now. I believe Self Hell is another chapter in the Sleeps story that will solidify the emotional connection people have with this band and their music. It has most definitely had that effect on me. The band showcase their unparalleled versatility and unwavering passion on Self Hell, a record that has boldly explored new sonic territories while remaining authentic to their artistic vision.

While the album’s departure from familiar sounds may divide fans, I believe it ultimately stands as a testament to the band’s growth and artistic integrity. Those who grasp the band’s greatness will undoubtedly embrace this evolution with open arms. With each new album, While She Sleeps prove themselves to be a well-oiled machine fueled by sheer passion, solidifying their position as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, even after 17 years of pushing boundaries and defying expectations.

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