While She Sleeps

So What?

Written by: AP on 18/06/2019 08:34:19

“Is metalcore dying?” — I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have been asked that question, not to mention how many times I have asked that question myself. But on the advent of the genre’s third decade of influence, there is nothing to suggest that its popularity might be on the wane. If anything, the likes of Architects, Bring Me the Horizon and Parkway Drive have pushed it into the mainstream by letting themselves evolve, mending and moulding the entire movement in the process to end up at a sound that is very far removed from the early naughties heavyweights like As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage. So perhaps the more interesting question to ask today is: ”What is metalcore?” One of the artists that have been striving to come up with an answer is While She Sleeps from the British city of Sheffield, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that in particular their previous two albums — 2015’s “Brainwashed” and 2017’s “You Are We” — have done wonders in terms of redefining and inspiring the genre to keep moving forward.

On this fourth and latest offering “So What?” the quintet takes another evolutionary step, and like their Sheffield brethren in Bring Me the Horizon, it involves a significant softening of their sound in keeping with the current pulse of the scene. The opening track “Anti-Social” lays the changes bare, with lead vocalist Lawrence Taylor employing a kind of rapping vocal style and the instrumentation taking on an almost nu-metallic character. As scary as that may sound to an incarnate While She Sleeps fan, the composition and dynamics of the song actually render it a pretty riveting piece of music reminiscent of the band’s countrymen in Shvpes. But alert listeners will inevitably notice that lead guitarist Sean Long has less freedom now to unleash those noodling melodies that made While She Sleeps stand out from the masses on their first three albums. The focus in the likes of “I’ve Seen It All” and “Inspire” has shifted onto big, arena-encompassing power-chords that provide a good foundation for Taylor’s clean singing, which outweighs his growling in most of these tracks. The result is a hugely anthemic record in which virtually every song demands to be sung out loud — but this mass appeal is acquired at the expense of things that made While She Sleeps such a unique prospect in the first place.

Just like the creative lead melodies of Long, those bursts of searing intensity that put urgency behind the politicised lyricism Taylor likes to write have also become an intermittent feature of the music, which goes hand-in-hand with the fieriness of his verse seeming to have given way to resignation (“I want the world but I’m not prepared to work for a chance — I’d rather be dead!”). The good news is that While She Sleeps are still far from the quantum leap taken by their Sheffield compatriots, sounding more like Bring Me the Horizon on 2010’s “There Is a Hell…” or perhaps Architects on their latest album “Holy Hell”. The middle of the album shows the band can still sound both heavy and violent when they want to, with especially the scalding duo “The Guilty Party” and “Elephant” guaranteed to leave you gasping for breath by the time their haunting choruses start to unfold. In general, “So What?” delivers booming sing-songs with remarkable consistency, even if each one of them seems to sell off a piece of the band’s identity in exchange for trendiness. It is no surprise then, that the standout moments of the album are those that either hark back to “Brainwashed” and “You Are We”, or those in which the band dares experiment with a Fever 333-esque post-hardcore-meets-rapcore style — i.e. the opener “Anti-Social” and the closer “Gates of Paradise”. Both the aberrant rhythm and the way Taylor’s words dance on top of it exposes a huge potential for the band to chart another course that should keep them at the head of the pack in the future as well.

“So What?” thus leaves me with mixed feelings. Despite the fact that the skill of musicianship possessed by these five musicians is not quite as blatantly on display as on past records from While She Sleeps, there is no question that the technical execution of “So What?” is top notch. And while most of the songs take on a character that speaks less endearingly to me personally, it is also hard to deny their anthemic potential. Above all it feels like the band have entered into a process of transition but have not quite reached their destination yet. So when I undoubtedly find myself singing along to these songs at concerts to come, I will simultaneously be looking forward to the next step in While She Sleeps’ evolution — one that will hopefully prove to be more consistently satisfying to my tastebuds.


Download: Anti-Social, The Guilty Party, Elephant, Gates of Paradise
For the fans of: Architects, Parkway Drive, Polaris, Shvpes
Listen: Facebook

Release date 01.03.2019
Spinefarm Records

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