Sleep Of Monsters first album hit me so hard from out of nowhere that I’m still recovering from it and the album shares a place with Warning’s ‘Watching From A Distance’ as music that can still break me. Second time round you’re braced, aware, ready even but fearful that not only won’t it have the same impact but that surely it can’t be as good. ‘Poison King’, the opening number here, with lyrics about ‘the man who would be king’ is a smooth, graceful reassurance that this is cut from the same prince in shadows cloth: Full melody swelling, glorious choral backing vocals rising, the curtain lifted. Another chance to play Metatron and peer at the throne. ‘The Golden Bough’ , part duet, reflects on love and compares to the god for a day, a fleeting moment of rapture before we plunge into the more driven and fearless ‘The Art Of Passau’ with a chorus to die for, a rush with the amazing lead vocals and sumptuous keyboard work like velvet around the riff. The performance as a band here is just stunning; drums carry as much passion and flair as the voices, the bass taut and eloquent as the guitars. A shared vision.
‘Babes In The Abyss’ has an easy, earworm quality, a nursery rhyme for adults, while ‘Beyond The Fields We Know’ is a slow musing. Ah; it goes on. Delve in and discover ‘The Devil And All His Works’ and ‘Our Dark Mother’ or ‘Foreign Armies East’. This is esoteric poetry for the raggedy traveller and the lovers at the alchemical wedding. Closing song ‘The Land Of Nod’ has a complex, tricky touch of the Mediterranean, a feel of warm hazy sun slowly sinking as the crepuscule rests heavy on your eyes and… Stops.
If there is a criticism, perhaps they show a little too much pacing in the midstream as when Sleep Or Monsters find that higher driving gear or drift in first it sharpens the light and darkens the shade. Little things though as, again, not a single song is presented simply to fill the gaps in time. It is an unbelievably assured and masterful collection.
When a band’s emotional intensity can almost bring you to tears you know you’re in the presence of pure, seemingly effortless class. When on songs like ‘The Art Of Passau’ they delve into magical invulnerability bestowed by the height of the sword maker’s art and cabbalistic symbols and a swirl of allegory and history, you know they care as much about the words as the notes. Honestly the only other band I know that dare to reach so deeply into such a rich well of history, allegory and magic in so eloquent a fashion are Bavarian scholars and epic metallers Atlantean Kodex. Sleep Of Monsters are the dissolute lovers, the heavy lidded prince tired; wasted but eyes and mind and lips full of the smouldering fire of life and of the shadow world.
Simply it is, again, beautiful.