Sheffield, England’s While She Sleeps debut album This Is the Six isn’t looking to break any new ground when it comes to heavy metal and its various subgenres. What the band does do is skillfully combine a lot of different elements from those subgenres into one big package. The end result is that While She Sleeps has come up with a solid set of songs that actually sound like a straight-ahead metal album. For a style of music that has splintered in dozens of directions over the past two decades, While She Sleeps seems intent on bringing at least some of those splinters back together.
“Dead Behind the Eyes” kicks off the album with ferocity, as vocalist Lawrence Taylor shouts his head off over Adam Savage’s galloping, double-bass driven drums. Guitarists Sean Long and Mat Welsh and bassist Aaran Mckenzie plow along in unison on the same chunky chords for most of the song, while occasionally one of the guitars slips into some slow, feedback-drenched atmospherics instead. As an opener, it’s suitably intense, but monochromatic. Second track “False Freedom” adds some variety to the band’s sound, as it features some strong guitar leads and a very effective de-tuned breakdown section. After the breakdown the band stops dead for a piano and clean vocal interlude before sliding into chunky coda which doesn’t repeat the song’s opening riff. There are interesting songwriting ideas going on in this song, and the band’s willingness to mess with traditional metal song structures without going too far off the map serves them well on the album’s best moments.
“Seven Hills” drifts more towards metalcore, with a pair of recognizable, even catchy, guitar riffs present through most of the song, and a bellow-along chorus, “I know / There’s people in the places I’ve been / Who I know, I’ll never find again.” “Our Courage, Our Cancer” features a quiet piano opening before kicking in with the full band, an honest-to-goodness guitar solo, and an interesting technique where Taylor’s shouts are gradually faded into the background (but continue apace) near the end of the song. “This Is the Six” is close to classic thrash metal, with the band going full speed with detuned guitar riffs and all-out double bass work from Savage.
Despite spending most of the album piling on the guitars, drums, and throat-shredding shouting, While She Sleeps proves surprisingly willing to embrace quieter moments. “The Chapel” is a two-minute instrumental that’s little more than a gentle clean guitar solo. “Love at War” once again uses piano in the introduction, but this time goes back to it for the outro as well. And album closer “Reunite” is a 75-second piano ballad with clean vocals. The band uses these melodic vocals sparingly throughout the album, but it’s effective whenever they do. Possibly moreso because they don’t rely on them to provide the hooks for most of their songs. Interestingly, though guitarist Mat Welsh is credited on the vocals, every time there’s clean singing, the band opts for sort of a gang chorus instead of a single voice. I’m not sure if the idea is that more voices singing sorta-decently is more effective than one middling singer, but it works in this context.
This Is the Six is a strong first outing, but because of its middle of the road nature, it’s tough to call it an unqualified success. While She Sleeps does a good job of bringing several different styles of metal together in a unified album, but they rarely achieve something truly fresh. But the songwriting is strong and the entire band can really play. Their willingness to experiment, even in fits and starts, is a good sign for the future.
// Notes from the Road
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