That the best new heavy band of the last decade had to resort to a Pledge Music fund to get their new album out is evidence that a) the music industry is broken and b) there is no justice in the world. After setting the world of metalcore ablaze in 2012 with debut This Is the Six (in their home country of the UK, at least), While She Sleeps had their momentum killed stone dead when vocalist Loz Taylor’s throat surgery forced them off the road at the peak of campaigning. So despite their best efforts, and an even better follow-up in Brainwashed, Sleeps almost feel like they’re back to square one here.
It’s likely that a lot of people will be hearing them for the first time on You Are We, the more accessible material of which appears to be bringing in the attention they’ve long deserved – admittedly, a great deal of credit for this can be attributed to a guest spot by a bloke named Oli. The headline news for this album is the ramping up of the role of guitarist Mat Welsh’s clean vocals, which unsurprisingly makes this the most ‘mainstream’ While She Sleeps album to date. “Hurricane” feels like the apex of this – its startlingly pretty intro was velvety enough to scare long-term fans when it first emerged prior to the album’s release, but thankfully it’s only the precursor to possibly the best anthem track this band has ever produced: a relentless blitzkrieg of liquid lead guitars and crunching rhythms that open the floodgates to a chorus the size of the Alps.
There’s certainly no shortage of choruses on offer here, from the snotty punk vibe of “Wide Awake” to an insistent hook that feels more urgent every time “Settle Down Society” throws it up. The lyrical content on You Are We largely draws on the same ambiguous-enough sociopolitical rhetoric of the band’s last two albums. As ever, it’s delivered with gruff Northern fire by Loz, whose ability to twist vocal bile into memorable slogans makes him the closest thing the UK’s ever had to Randy Blythe. If anything the album could do with more of it – some of the more straightforward moments including post-emocore slowburner “Empire of Silence” are largely left to Mat Welsh to carry, and subsequently lack the intensity of the rest of the material.
For the most part, however, intensity is far from lacking. The introductory title track is classic While She Sleeps at their best – a cavalcade of metallic bludgeon given just the right level of polish and craft. Few bands can match this level of technicality delivered with such raw punk fury, and pretty much none are as good at the pullback/release dynamic that Sleeps have perfected over the course of their catalogue. Half the fun of the big money riffs on the title track and “Revolt” is the build-up to get to them, and the teasing sensation that you’re about to be battered in the head with a spade. You get the idea the band know this is their forte – the intro to “Feel” suggests a dizzying technical firestorm akin to the title track of Brainwashed before deploying downtuned concrete sludge instead. When it comes to measuring riff per square minute, You Are We has blown every other album of 2017 so far out of the water.
Then there are the curveballs – perhaps less of them than the band’s prior albums, but their presence is welcome nonetheless. Most shocking of all is the rapping on “Steal the Sun”, which thankfully stands a million miles from Attila rap-deathcore nonsense, instead injecting an extra dose of adrenaline into what’s already a hell-for-leather ride. “Civil Isolation” ramps up the punk side of the band’s varied character; the aforementioned “Silence Speaks” is built around a chorus that’s almost entirely wordless, with butter-won’t-melt vocals lapping at the edge of the waves of noise. You almost expect Oli Sykes to turn in the vulnerable melodic singing he’s drawn on so much lately. Instead, his There is a Hell-era recalling guest spot proves that Sleeps’ fellow Sheffield native still has a few razors lodged in his throat.
While She Sleeps have set an awful high bar for themselves, one that few bands in the game right now can even hope to reach. Whether You Are We clears that bar is a question we’ll have to ask in a few months or so rather than now – this is one band you cannot fully appreciate without plenty of time to pick out all the intricacies and left-turns they’re packing into their product. Some more of those left-turns would perhaps make this a more immediately thrilling rollercoaster… but this album does effectively balance old-school Sleeps power with more straightforward accessible shades. For that reason, it’s a good entry point to one of the most exciting and overlooked bands in modern rock.