Artist: Sleep Waker
Album: Don’t Look at the Moon
Nothing good ever happens in the midnight hour.
You awake shaking, covered in clammy sweat that keeps your twisted sheets stuck to your skin. Your eyes—still yet to adjust—see nothing but dark, and your ears can only hear the sound of your heart beating out of your chest. The clock reads twelve-something in the morning, and you don’t know what woke you, but you know something isn’t right. Your breathing gets shallow and quick, your heart rate jacks up to try and compensate for the burning pain in your chest and your inability to catch your breath. You’re paralyzed by a sensation you can’t describe—and while you don’t have words to ascribe to it, that cocktail of fear, excitement, uncertainty and suspense shaken by catecholamines—that feeling is remarkably similar to listening to Sleep Waker’s debut full-length release for the first time. Don’t Look at the Moon is as energetic and aggressive as it eerie and haunting, combining elements of metalcore, nu-metal, deathcore and heavy-handed hardcore into a scathing, barn-burning ass-beater of a record that incorporates the mythological and fanciful into a backbone of pure, bitter, brutality.
Sleep Waker—in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner—refer to themselves as “dark hardcore,” and while genre elitists might cringe while others might miss it entirely, it really isn’t too far from the truth. While the band’s roots in hardcore are largely obliterated by nu-metallic and contemporary metalcore influence, they aren’t absent—and there is no doubting that the new Stay Sick Records act are dark. Where some tracks—“Don’t Look at the Moon” and “Don’t Look at the Sun,” among others—are entrenched in nu-metalcore, “Tongues” is an example of a song with a distinctly heavy-hardcore hint to it. the majority of Sleep Waker’s diversity stems from percussionist Frankie Mish and his work with bassist Noah Boland. Together, the duo function as the heart to Don’t Look at the Moon, with Mish’s drumming managing to be both technical and punctual, pummeling the listener with gut-busting breakdowns while intertwining fast-footed, fill-heavy two-step sections that allow Mish to showcase his musical mastery. Meanwhile, Boland brings heaviness to the climactic portions of Don’t Look at the Moon. “Hell” is one such example, where his bass brings extra punch to the riffs played by Jason Caudill and Eric Overway. Caudill and Overway are a dynamic duo in themselves (regardless of how well they function with Mish and Boland), and “Dream Eater,” as well as “Tongues” and “Turnaround” are excellent examples. While the foremost of the three is a more ambient cut that morphs into malevolent heaviness, the other two are riff-and-groove heavy cuts that see Caudill and Overway raining down pain on the listener’s head. The duo use everything from heavy-handed chord progressions to scathing leads and straight up abyssal chugs to unleash raw ruthlessness on the listener—and they do it damn well.
Sleep Waker’s multifaceted instrumental approach is tied together with the vocal efforts of frontman Hunter Courtright. Courtright is a focal point for Don’t Look at the Moon—not only for his lyrical prowess, but for his constant vocal barrage, which serves as a relative anchor amid the shifting dynamics of the remainder of the band. Courtright primarily dominates with a raw and relentless mid-range yell—that which dominates on lead single “Turnaround”—but also uses gritty lows (“Tongues” is an excellent example) and screeching highs (“Dream Eater” sees these used intermittently, as do both of the “Don’t Look at the…” tracks). While many cuts from the back half of the release see Courtright using more of his lower register to compliment the more overall aggressive and headstrong nature of the songs and their relative hardcore influence, the earlier cuts favor Courtright’s mid-range yell with dips and dives into other styles, ensuring that every song features a line (or more) that stay stuck in the listener’s head. Courtright’s variety is carefully measured such that it compliments the music backing it without being too busy or clashing outright.
Don’t Look at the Moon is as haunting and mysterious as the name might imply. Following a loose and eerie concept for many of the tracks (with the closing cut just straight-up pissed), Sleep Waker have toiled and toiled to much avail, creating an absolutely immense debut full-length record—one that is sure to keep you up all night listening on repeat, even if you best avoid looking skyward.
For Fans Of: VCTMS, Sworn In, Barrier, Extortionist, Mothersound
By: Connor Welsh