Remember Babylon Whores? No? Honestly my memory did require some jogging, but they were a rather good Finnish gothic rock band (yeah another) that released some underrated albums in the late nineties/early noughties before disappearing about ten years ago. Sleep of Monsters is former Whores vocalist Ike Vil’s new band, and given that he’s recruited former HIM drummer Pätkä Rantala you might be expecting more of the same Finngoth. But! The main songwriter is Sami Hassinen, formerly of stoner rockers Blake, while keyboards are provided by Janne Immonen of, er, Waltari. And! There’s a three-woman backing-vocal section. What sort of crazy sound is such an eclectic mix of personnel capable of?
There’s no doubt that Sleep of Monsters’ style is built on a base of Finnish gothic rock, but the songs are far less primitively emotional than, say, HIM or Sentenced, and not as rocking as The 69 Eyes or Poisonblack. Their music is not so instantly accessible; it’s deeper and richer, radiating warmth while remaining unquestionably dark. The velvety quality is derived from the combination of textural synth and string lines, thick guitars and bass, and the inspired use of the backing vocalists, who contribute both subtle harmonies and more prominent melodies. The (wonderfully over-the-top) promo blurb mentions Pink Floyd, and this is certainly apparent in some of the instrumental and vocal arrangements, as well as during the quieter and slower moments.
The first three songs reveal the range of Sleep of Monsters’ repertoire. “Nihil Nihil Nihil” starts the album perfectly, delivering a strong, driving riff and fine vocal line that creates a dark yet upbeat atmosphere. The chorus is a proper earworm and I’ve been humming it to myself all week. The song also showcases the band’s talent for arrangement, blending the many sonic elements together impeccably. This is followed by “Abomination Street” – by far the album’s heaviest track, with crushing guitars contrasting effectively against the sweet vocal harmonies. “Murder She Wrote” slows the pace, beginning with solo voice over gothic synths and piano. The sinister feeling builds up to the first chorus, which switches mood dramatically to a sorrowful, almost folky melody. After this, unexpectedly heavy guitars crash in and the sequence repeats in metal mode; later we are treated to a truck driver’s gear change, which I haven’t heard in a long time. They just about get away with it.
The dense arrangements are complemented by a very good production job. The guitar sound is surprisingly heavy and thick, the bass is strong, and drums are weighty. The various vocal parts, synths and occasional strings have been cleverly spread over the stereo spectrum, which allows them to remain distinct while contributing to the sensation of aural envelopment. The low dynamic range isn’t an annoyance, as the music still sounds spacious and the arrangements provide plenty of dynamic contrast.
While Sleep of Monsters’ sound is very distinctive, their music is occasionally less so. Several of the melodies and chord sequences are quite standard patterns that will sound familiar to all but the greenest music fans. The first half of the album is less afflicted than the second in this respect. “Our Savage God” doesn’t start well, the bass line almost sounding a little awkward at times; the chorus and ending improve matters dramatically, probably because they sound exactly like a gothic metal version of Porcupine Tree’s “Lazarus.” “Horses of the Sun” drags rather, “Cobwebs of Your Mind” becomes tedious towards the end of its five-and-a-half minute runtime, and “Colour Me Black” – a bonus track not on last year’s Finland-only release – could safely have been left off (“Magick Without Tears” providing a much better ending to the record with the recurrence of the “Holy Holy Holy” chant from the introductory track).
Overall, though, this album is a winner. I’m a sucker for gothic rock, especially if it’s something a bit different. Sleep of Monsters have made an admirable attempt at just that, crafting a very polished record with a unique style that contains plenty of emotional depth without ever becoming mawkish. The excellent lyrics (apparently containing many literary references this philistine has missed) are the icing on the red velvet cake.