Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
Over the years we have been repeatedly graced with well-crafted, super-aggressive metal from While She Sleeps, and so we must ask the question, will they ever release a bad album?
It’s a question I must ask in the wake of their most recent release, You Are We, which is the Sheffield-born band’s third album to date, following 2012’s This Is The Six, and 2015’s Brainwashed. Both of these releases were well recieved, garnering much praise from fans and critics alike. They showed that While She Sleeps could write themselves into a genre, but also keep that genre fresh. It’s the curse of rock bands who describe themselves as a certain type of rock, be it hardcore, metalcore, punk, thrash etc, to be almost typecast by the genre they find themselves in. I have heard metalcore after metalcore band sound exactly alike, which isn’t conducive to growth in that specific musical world. Of course, I am not saying a band needs to change their sound, but they evidently need to progress. Simple because one sound garnered you success in one album doesn’t mean you should stick with it.
And that’s where I am left pondering with WSS’s You Are We. Initial listenings had me enjoying it, as I’m a big fan of the band’s skullcrushing, thrash-influenced, riff heavy style. The riffs these guys can create are wonderfully intimidating, and yet they allow themselves to also be incredibly melodic. It’s like they took the anger of classic hardcore bands like Cro-Mags or early Your Demise (pre-Ed Mcrae, when they were good – seriously, check out Ignorance Never Dies), and combined it with the melodic presence of their own guitarist Mat Welsh, whose catchy hooks are one of the aspects of this band’s music that makes them unique. When a band carves themselves a niche, each successive move they take is crucial – do they stick to the niche, or move away from it? Either move could come with the dual risks of disappointing fans or disappointing critics.
Which is why You Are We leaves me in a conundrum. The opening track itself, You Are We, has that distinctive WSS sound. Punchy and raw, it is evident they are not going down the route of other metalcore bands (most notably Bring Me The Horizon) for watering down their sound, making it more fit for mainstream ears. Loz Taylor’s wrenched vocals will probably not be gracing daytime Radio 1 anytime soon, in contrast to BMTH’s Oli Sykes, who gradually filtered out the screams that he was once known for.
Throughout the album we get those brief clean and downtempo little guitar licks, which are almost jazz-inspired, and allow for clean hooky vocals to become the centre of attention, something the band admittedly does excel at – yet, this has been a trope of theirs since their first EP, The North Stands For Nothing. These parts are more common than in Brainwashed, and shows that WSS are expanding their sound into something that is bigger than the initial home they made for themselves. I personally think this expansion is coming too slow though, each album sounds a little different, but not enough. They’re taking baby steps.
The standout tracks for me are Feel, for it’s thrash-driven punchiness (a definite crowd-pleaser), Silence Speaks, which is a well-crafted single featuring the previously mentioned Oli Sykes, and Settle Down Society, for the gang-chanted vocals and brothers-in-arms vibe that WSS have wonderfully perfected as part of their identity. Another track, which stands out for it’s poignancy and eloquence is Empire Of Silence, whose chorus lyrics are the most overtly political in the album. Welsh sings ‘We’re building walls/ where there should have been bridges/ Borders in the land that we roam/ We pray for war like it’s a fucking religion/ Greed is all we know’. It is one of the catchiest choruses that WSS have ever written, and got stuck in my head a number of times.
You Are We stands as a solid album, and I do enjoy listen to it. I like the riff-heavy approach, I like the dual and sometimes choral vocals, I like the pounding percussion provided by drummer Adam Savage. It appeals to the person inside me who loves a good shouty album that I can turn on to help me switch off. And yet, part of me begs for progression, and this is something I see all too little of with While She Sleeps. They can stick to what they are doing, because man, they are good at it, but this may harm their reputation in the future though.
The album ends on a high note though. In Another Now, is a banger. While She Sleeps definitely show great promise.