Deep Dive: Are Sleep Token’s Albums One Big Theatre Production?
Sleep Token might be the hottest commodity in rock right now. Their music is unlike anything we’ve seen before on this level, and the band’s complexity for music and storytelling feel more like a musical theater production than a standard concept album.
Think the Rock Musical “Rent” but with a Djent-like orchestra pit backing it up... “Djent-Rent” if you will.
Vessel tells complex stories of toxic relationships, self-harm, possibly even suicide and mental illness – all VERY relatable content these days. Couple that with their strange anonymity, and incredible musicianship and you have a perfect storm of intrigue and interest from audiences.
And we've established that there are callbacks all the way back to the band's EPs and earlier albums, and it begs the question... What is it all about?
There are a lot of theories floating around the internet about what the over-arching theme or story is for Sleep Token’s opus of work across three albums.
My personal view (One of many out there…)
This is about a person who has suffered a major traumatic event — possibly the loss of a loved one who had a history with self-harm — and they are using the persona of “Vessel” and a relationship with the deity he calls “Sleep” to fill the void that has been left by this person’s passing.
But it turns toxic and Vessel must remove himself from the world he nearly made into his own “tomb.” A fight to return to reality after diving deep into depression and control in his own mind... aka, Sleep.
Obviously, everything is open to interpretation, but there are some context clues in what we've heard to prove that this is an over-arching storyline that spans all three LPs, just like a music theatre production.
Act I: Sundowning
This is the beginning of Vessel’s relationship with Sleep. Only at night can he fully connect with Sleep (in a dream, perhaps?). He begs for sleep and the night, so that he might turn into Vessel again, and “tangle” himself with Sleep in this promised “Eden.”
Basically, he’s asking Sleep to take him away from this waking world where he suffered trauma and deliver him to a paradise where he no longer feels that pain.
This idea is further solidified with the first line of “The Offering...”
“You are a garden / Entwined with All...”
The Garden could be the “Eden” he seeks in the beginning and is again referenced in the band’s third album Take Me back to Eden.
There are also possible clues in “Levitate” about faintly recalling the traumatic event that sent him into this dream world with Sleep.
There are indications through the rest of the album that seem to reference Vessel telling Sleep about his past life, and the troubles he wishes to leave behind, so that he might join Sleep in his version of “Eden.”
Repeatedly, he asks Sleep to “Carve me out,” and “Break me apart,” asking Sleep to break him of his previous life and mold him into something new.
Act II: This Place Will Become Your Tomb
Now that Vessel has been properly “broken” down, and brought to his pure and basic form, he asks Sleep to fill him up with his love and keep him in this dream world.
“So Flood me like Atlantic / Bandage up the trenches / Anything to get me to Sleep.”
Vessel is literally giving up everything he is to be with Sleep and to be taken away from the waking world where he may have suffered this traumatic event. “Don’t Wake Me.”
But as the album progresses, Vessel – who is begging Sleep to keep him – begins to peel back the layers of what Sleep is actually offering.
In the song “Like That,” we see these first “whispers.”
Vessel learns that Sleep isn’t welcoming him into his paradise, but rather trapping him in what will become his “tomb.”
At this point, it’s clear Vessel is in a toxic relationship with Sleep who abuses his unwavering devotion. Vessel knows, but would rather remain in this, than be alone again with his trauma in real life.
From here, it's a back and forth between Vessel and Sleep, showing Sleep’s toxic traits but Vessel’s inability to escape what they have and his fear to return to what he would be without Sleep. He will do anything to NOT return, even lying forever in a tomb prepared by Sleep.
“To fall asleep without you lying next to me
To sever my connection with everything
‘Cause it still makes my blood run cold
To remember what I did before...
And I’ll live like I’ve got missing limbs for you.”
Act III: Take Me Back to Eden
This album is where the magic of Sleep Token begins to come full circle. We have followed Vessel falling in love with a toxic deity named Sleep, which now has his “teeth” sunk deeply into Vessel. Vessel is realizing how deep he’s fallen, and how tight Sleep has him in his grips.
TMBTE is Vessel’s fight to free himself of Sleep’s toxic hold, realizing this is NOT the “Eden” he thought it would be. He now wants to escape the clutches of Sleep and is willing to do anything — including summoning previous “conquests” of Sleep — to help him return, leave Sleep and wake up.
But, in doing so, it will also stir up the pain he was trying to escape. As Vessel fights to remove Sleep’s grip on him, Sleep shows him the pain and anguish that awaits him if he does return.
We start to get a glimpse, too, as to what MIGHT have been the traumatic event that sent Vessel into this world of Sleep in “Are you Really Okay?”
What is seemingly the person he loves, dealing with the effects of self-harm, eventually leading to their death. This is coincidentally followed by “The Apparition.”
Finally, in the title track, “Take me Back To Eden,” Vessel declares that he is ready to leave, demanding that while he is thankful for the love that Sleep showed him, he must take him “Back to Eden” — which Vessel originally THOUGHT was the paradise that Sleep offered, but only now realizes his “Eden” is back in reality.
He has gone too far to escape his reality and must defy Sleep and return.
(Note the sounds in the background that SOUND like birds chirping... but are NOT! More like, what birds might sound like if simulated in a dream world.)
Vessel has been destroyed. The person in this story is “Euclid,” which is defined as “a copy of the same.” Still the same person physically and mentally, but at the same time, completely different from who they were before.
“This bough has broken through / I must be someone new”
The person who we knew as Vessel has deconstructed their trauma, processed it, and is now ready to move on with their lives, renewed, leaving only memories of Vessel and Sleep behind him.
Is this really what Vessel and Sleep Token envisioned while they wrote their opus of material? It’s possible.
The great thing is, if you talk with fans, everyone can interpret individual songs, albums and include the band’s EPs to mean something completely different.
I’ve also heard people say it’s someone’s deconstruction of their religious upbringing, or the story of a person leaving an abusive relationship, using the story of Vessel and Sleep as a parallel to their views.
Maybe one day Vessel will fill us in on what they really meant with the stories they told, or — most likely — they won’t, and will leave it entirely up to fans to take it how they want.
Regardless of how you take it, though, we all have one thing in common... we Worship.