Despite picking up plenty of positive press for their debut Produces Reason a couple of years ago (including a glowing review from yours truly), Sleep of Monsters don’t seem to have penetrated far into the metal public’s collective consciousness. Comprising former members of underrated Finnish goth rockers Babylon Whores, overrated Finnish goth rockers HIM1, and a host of other decorated musicians, Sleep of Monsters go beyond the narrow confines inhabited by the aforementioned acts, incorporating all manner of different musical ideas into their remarkably coherent overall sound. Perhaps they put off the average headbanger with their exploration of genres not typically associated with metal, but I’d like to think metal fans would appreciate fine songcraft whatever the style2. So, what have the dozy beasts dreamt up for their second outing?
Luckily for this fan, Poison Garden picks up where debut Produces Reason left off, offering up boutique gothic rock at affordable prices. Actually I dread to think how much Sleep of Monsters must spend on recording and touring given their nine band members. Anyway, they make the most of this lavish line-up, creating a rich, treacle-thick sound layered with orchestral arrangements, warm synths, twin guitars, and gorgeous vocal harmonies. Their fundamental style is still rooted in Finnish goth rock à la Sentenced or Babylon Whores, but they incorporate so many other elements it seems unfair to lump them in with such straightforward acts.
Poison Garden strays even further from the goth rock template than its predecessor, influenced by alt-rock, film scores, new wave, traditional metal, and even musical theatre. Massive opener “Poison King” immediately signals Sleep of Monsters’ grandiose musical ambition, its choir-backed opening theme bringing to mind a more sinister Devin Townsend (when he’s doing his wall-of-happy-sound thang). The grandeur continues on “Golden Bough,” which features luscious strings straight from a Hollywood blockbuster, before “The Art of Passau” picks up the pace with thunderous, catchy gothic metal. Other than this track, Sleep of Monsters tend to opt for a slower pace that suits their dense arrangements and works well both on more brooding songs like “Beyond the Fields We Know” or “Our Dark Mother,” and on the more epic “Poison King,” “Golden Bough” and “Land of Nod.” The highlight for me, though, is penultimate track “Foreign Armies East,” which mixes beautiful gothic melodies in a lilting triplet rhythm with Santa Esmeralda “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” trumpets and chord progressions.
The arrangements are so well crafted it is easy to overlook the album’s weak points. First of these is the production (cue my obligatory moan about dynamic range). Though the overall sound is thick and warm, everything is suffocatingly compressed, erasing some of the sparkle this kind of record would benefit from. There is no contrast between soft and loud so many of the music’s nuances are lost, and the sound descends into mush during the busier arrangements. Secondly, some of the chord progressions and melodies appear quite obviously more than once. This provides continuity but also feels a tiny bit lazy, despite never descending to HIM or Sentenced levels of musical recycling. Finally, Ike Vil’s vocals, while unique and powerful, are somewhat monochrome. This is hardly a big flaw, but some more variation in his delivery could have lifted the music a notch.
Sleep of Monsters have delivered another fine album in Poison Garden and have become my go-to band for gratuitously overblown (but spectacularly crafted) melancholy. While Poison Garden perhaps doesn’t have as many memorable highlights as Produces Reason, it is more consistent with greater attention to detail and more variety, bringing to mind artists as diverse as Toad the Wet Sprocket, Green Carnation, Ennio Morricone and Iron Maiden. And if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.
Rating: Very Good!
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: sleepofmonsters.com | sleepofmonsters.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/SleepOfMonsters
Releases worldwide: June 3rd, 2016