Sleeps Society Review — While She Sleeps Drop a Seminal Metal-core Album

Reviewed by Mark McConville

Railing against the status quo takes confidence and unflinching determination. Wearing a badge and commanding a roaring pack of fans who want nothing but the world to experience what they have is a monumental feat. Sheffield-based metal-core band While She Sleeps trigger inner belief through their album Sleeps Society, and with the backing of thousands of people, they try to nullify the noise that generates throughout an industry that has its share of flaws and toxicity.

The album is not only a catalyst for the disenchanted but also an anchor for the people who feel torn between love and pain, who feel the world weighing on their shoulders. Fans of this particular style of music often have to endure beratement and prejudice at the hands of music snobs and the uninitiated alike. This needs to be stopped; this needs to be pinpointed as a struggle. With a record as profound and as timely as Sleeps Society, we may have the fundamental piece of the puzzle finally.

Although the album is not likely to stop the challenges of war or global warming, or the constraints and heart-breaking effects of world hunger, it does offer the disillusioned a pathway to the light. The light is pivotal to these souls, the broken army who urgently want to feel something other than shame and sorrow.  

And often, the lyrics can be misconstrued on records as dark and as charged as Sleeps Society. These words can be automatically shunted for their provocativeness and their subject. Although, While She Sleeps play with subjects, they do not hit the grain in terms of themes. They do, as a collective, bring forth balance, which lets them conquer.

The album breaks the mould in terms of sensibility. With it comes lyrical qualities and intelligence many bands cannot fathom. While She Sleeps is also an act far beyond their metal-core competitors, pushing predominantly at the grand pillar. Their infusion of breakneck and technical riffs offers artistry and trickery in equal measure, and their energy never seems to cease.

It may be audacious to think that While She Sleeps can grow as a band beyond the sweatiness of the underground as it has taken them a while to solidify their place — seven albums to be precise. However, it is likely they can with Sleeps Society becoming their homage to metal-core.  

Sleeps Society begins with ‘Enlightenment’, a song of unbridled sorrow. It is raucous and unapologetic, steering through panic. Lead vocalist Lawrence Taylor pushes his voice to the limits, and with the shuddering importance of the instrumentals behind him; he is in his element.

“Can we all just take a moment
And see what we’ve become?
We’re all so lost and we know it
We’re tired of waking up and feeling numb
We all just sit and wonder (Wonder)
How do we define our love?
The more that I discover
That there’s no me without us’’

It is a start we expect from While She Sleeps. It proves they still have the power to create emotive lyricism. ‘Nervous’is another highlight. It begins with melodic underpinnings and the vocals from Taylor are placid, until he lets the screams in like ghosts. The chorus bubbles with intensity. Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil offers his gritty vocals too.

‘Know Your Worth (Somebody Told Me)’ is a statement of intent. Taylor lends his screams and growls to lay down an anthem for exorcising doubt that the society instils in us to control us.

“Stand tall, know your worth
They can only put you down for so long
Hold on
Everybody lies to make the silence seem alright
Everybody tries to put this jaded world to right’’

The instrumentals complement the vocals and the echoes power through the thickness of the atmospheric sound.

‘No Defeat for the Brave’ features vocals of Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley. He offers a softer blow. The song centres around the common man and woman and why their choices are usually pushed aside.

“There’s no perfect escape
No permanent faith that cures our need to be free
Don’t give up when you’re close to the edge
There’s no defeat for the brave
Our solace awaits the day that we feel complete
Don’t give up, we’re so close
Are we ever going to break free?
Break free’’

‘Call of the Void’showcases Taylor’s vocal range and lyrical prowess. The song lays bare a woe-begone and shrouded reality with subtlety, compared to the previous endeavours, and the result is beautiful.

It’s the call of the void
Something we all hold dear
Pulling back nature’s mask and walking into the fear
It’s the call of the void
Distorting life just to feel
Can’t keep holding my breath
Waiting to feel something real’’

The lyrics is melancholic, and While She Sleeps carefully uses words to channel truth through melancholy seamlessly.

While She Sleeps is a band on the cusp of propelling beyond the underground. They do not pull the wool over anyone’s face, and they do not cut corners musically. With powerful music and truthful lyrics, Sleeps Society is a record that will stand the test of time, and in the meantime, while the sceptics witness both the record and band cementing their places in history, the songs will continue offering succour to the disenchanted.

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Mark McConville is a freelance music journalist. He has written for a number of online and print publications. He also likes to write dark fiction. His poetry chapbook Lyrics From The Chamber is slated for release in August 2021. 

Why the need to identify the Hathras rape victim as Dalit?

In the wake of the brutal gang-rape and murder of a young Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, many of us have found ourselves feeling embarrassed at the society we live in; wondering how low humanity can stoop; raging over the unscrupulous and unethical conduct of the authorities in handling the case; and taking to social media to rant or simply protest against this heinous act. These reactions are a natural response to such a horrifying crime and the least we can do — reactions of intensity any lower than this would border on inhumanity. However, even as people on social media flinch at the crime and demand for a swift and brutal justice, many of them seem to show almost a similar degree of aversion to identifying the victim as a Dalit, squirming at the very mention of the word.

If you have been following the news coverage of the case or engaging with the story on social media for even a day or two, I am sure you must have come across a few media outlets, anti-caste activists, and other individuals calling the gang-rape an instance of caste-based violence, with the word Dalit making the headlines. Liberal Savarnas (and many non-Hindu liberals) engaging with the news question the need to mention the Dalit identity of the victim. A rape is a rape, right? It is a crime against humanity. If anything the word Dalit does is create rift among Hindus in an attempt to keep casteism alive, so they say.

The idea that caste has nothing to do with rape (and other atrocities) is incorrect and is deeply rooted in liberal Savarnas’ attempt to breakaway from a shameful “past” but without giving up their own identity as upper caste Hindus. In their peddling of the caste-is-dead narrative, they forget (I hope unintentionally and for lack of knowledge) that merely calling caste a thing of the past does little for the people who are still suffering from caste-based violence and discrimination, which is their present reality. It is hypocritical to enjoy the benefits of privileges, including education, social mobility and not having to deal with discrimination on a daily basis, ensured by being born into an upper caste and yet deny the existence of caste. This denial not only continues the facade of meritocracy and sham offerings of equal opportunity (to the benefit of the Savarnas), but also dilutes the chances of bringing the issue of caste-based atrocities to the mainstream.

Years ago, in my English Literature class, we were introduced to Alexander Pope via his mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock. Prior to having read the poem and explained to by my teachers, I thought rape involved the act of forcing of a man’s genitalia into a woman’s driven by lust. I was wrong. Lust/carnal desire is not the only factor behind rapes. If this comes as news to you, you are not alone: former SC judge Markandey Katju shares the burden of ignorance with you. Although the IPC definition of rape has been amended with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, after the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder in 2012, there is still a lot of room to expand the definition, and remarks like Mr. Katju’s do not help in ensuring a sound awareness of rape among the lay people. (Refer to Section 375 to have a clear understanding of what constitutes rape per the IPC.)

To understand why in cases of rape against Dalits and Adivasis mentioning the caste and tribal identity is important, you need to take into account the fact that Dalits and Adivasis have been and are the most vulnerable population of the society — vulnerable to hate crimes and the most likely ones to face impediments to seeking justice as most of the people in charge of safeguarding rights and ensuring justice are caste Hindus or non-ST/SCs who have adapted to the idea of caste hierarchy. And more often than not they carry their biases and never leave an opportunity to show their superiority.

Rape of a Dalit or Adivasi by non-ST/SCs cannot be judged independent of the 2,000 years of systemic oppression that the people of these communities have been put through by the practitioners of the caste system.The stench of a 2,000-year-old rot cannot be masked by perfumed call-to-actions for humanity when you have documented instances of caste-based and racially-motivated crimes throughout the course of Indian history.

The word rape comes from the Latin word rapio,which means “to seize”. In the poem The Rape of the Lock, an admirer of Belinda (the protagonist) snips off a lock of hair without her consent as a token of affection. Through this seemingly trivial “crime of passion,” Pope highlights the power relation between men and women, which allows men to get away with far serious crimes as long as they invoked love (replace it with honour, morality, justice, etc.) as the force driving there actions. When you do not restrict the idea of rape as a sexual crime, it becomes clear that the problem is not lust alone, it is the idea that a woman’s body is a powerless passive site on which men can play out their depraved fantasies or warped idea of justice and honour. In this light, rape cannot be separated from patriarchy and toxic masculinity.

Rapists take as much pleasure in defiling the body as much as they enjoy exploiting vulnerability and powerlessness to stoke their ego. And what better prey than Dalit and Adivasi women who are doubly vulnerable as not just women but Dalit and Adivasi women. Rape has been used as a tool to make example out of, to mock the men of raped women, to exact revenge, to silence voices. It is for these reasons why women and their bodies feature in so many of our expletives, why army men rape women in war zones and militarised areas (because these are vulnerable women, with no one to hear their demand for justice), and why caste Hindu men have been preying on Dalits and Adivasis. It is not to satiate carnal desire, but to teach lesson, to take revenge, to show us where we belong, to establish and reiterate that they are gods and we cannot go against them. This is the reason why these caste-based rapes are so gruesome in nature. The caste men intend it to be a spectacle.

Not identifying victims as Dalits, Adivasis or from other minority communities only prevents these marginalised communities from making it to the mainstream, thereby effectively taking away any opportunity to present our stories to the world. This is akin to treating us like rubbish on your floors; you cannot shove us under the carpet and talk in your drawing room over a cup of coffee about how far you have come from the days of caste system. Caste is not dead, and as long as it lives, atrocities are committed against Dalits, Adivasis and other minorities, and we are not allowed equal representation to bring our stories of atrocities to light, there will be a need to identify the victims as such. Don’t choke over your sweet talk of equality every time you hear the words Dalit or Adivasi. Get used to it. Or better still, move over and let us speak.

Fandom justice: Is the fight against nepotism as righteous as people think it is?

As I write this post, the new Dharma Productions film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl sits at a rather unfair 5.2/10 score on IMDB and a trailer for another Bollywood mainstream film Sadak 2 creates a record in garnering the most dislikes on YouTube within days of it being posted. Right now the number of dislike impressions on the trailer are at 12 million. Why are people and the media so angry with the two films? Do they deserve to be so angry? And, do these questions even deserve a write-up?

To understand the anger, one would need to go about two months back to the fateful day when Sushant Singh Rajput, an actor in the Hindi film industry, died. His demise has lead to a number of speculations as to whether he was driven to suicide or was it a cold-blooded murder and who the perpetrators are: the “Bollywood Mafia” as the self-appointed gatekeepers of the film industry are being called or Sushant’s girlfriend. While the speculations haven’t settled on any one party, the incident has set the age-old debate on nepotism in the film industry rolling, and has clearly found a villain in the big names of Bollywood and their “star kids”, whom the netizens have been bashing ever since.

The anger among hardcore Sushant fans and others, who may or may not have been fans, has set off a campaign of hate and abuse against the star kids, the aforementioned movies and one particular filmmaker Karan Johar, who is also known as the mai-baab (godfather) of these so-called star kids. The internet and the news media are, it seems so, in a non-stop war with the Hindi film industry “insiders” for not allowing easy entry to talented “outsiders” in the business and even, in some cases, sabotaging the careers of self-made “stars” in the industry so that the less-talented and undeserving insiders continue to thrive in an industry they have claimed as a gated enterprise.

Quite a noble task the fans have taken up, haven’t they?

Fandom isn’t as menacing and toxic as some people suggest it is.

Not quite, on both accounts.

To begin with, most of us have a skewed idea and superficial understanding of merit, talent, discrimination and justice, and none of us can escape bias (I, as an independent thinker, have my own biases, too). The people who are trying to take down the Bollywood establishment are not any different. The idea of challenging an unjust organisation that thrives on hierarchical exploitation, allows and defends wage discrimination, and is only a less-structured version of corporations has my support, but the way people are going about it, does not.

One of my primary issues with this whole campaign against nepotism is that people are making it only about Bollywood. They are forgetting that they are not on the committee that sends the Best Foreign Film nominations to the Oscars. Nepotism is but only a tip of the capitalist, casteist, racist iceberg that has sunk a lot many smaller boats than a celebrity ship. Before I lose you with the metaphors, allow me to get back to the point: we forget that many of us (at least, the ones who are fortunate enough to be able to voice their opinion) enjoy the privileges of nepotism or other similar privileges that we are born with and have done nothing to achieve or be proud of.

But we wouldn’t question our claim to the life we are enjoying, would we? Because certainly we have worked hard for it. And anyone who does not enjoy a better position has only their lack of merit, sincerity and determination to blame. And as we are so meritorious, just and talented, we have the right to call out the ones who aren’t and are enjoying a position they clearly don’t deserve.

It doesn’t matter how righteous our anger is or how incompetent and undeserving the celebrities are because we are the ones who turned actors into stars. As with god, we created the celebrity cult and personality cult. The people who enjoy this status are merely good at exploiting it. We cannot simply put the blame on them and absolve ourselves of all the prejudices, biases and injustices we support to make it happen. We are a part of the machinery.

Ask yourself, who decided that all the top box-office-friendly “stars” are light-skinned and/or male. Or, why aren’t transgenders allowed to play themselves on screen and tell their own stories? Why is sexism and racism so prevalent in comedies? Why are celebrities afraid of expressing their political beliefs, especially when that belief does not agree with the majority’s? Why isn’t there more representation of indigenous tribes and Dalits? Think about it. All these aspects that we have readily accepted to be not good enough for space on screen and popular culture go on to make make the kind of entertainment we consume and the celebrities we idolise.

We can’t keep fooling ourselves that we are any better than the celebrities we love/hate. We can’t slight them for leading lavish, pompous lives when we ourselves aspire to it. And how do we claim to be fighting for justice when we scoff at stories of discrimination against gender, sexuality and minorities and are quick to accusing victims of pulling the victim card?

We are the internet generation: we fall in love online, our idea of relaxation is governed by a slogan from a video streaming giant, we get our next fix in virtual crates and carts and our obsessions are accompanied by hashtags. The collective consciousness of people has never been so easy to manipulate. But people have always been manipulated. Remember, there was a time when the only source of truth was the religious text. Things have changed, our sources of truth have diversified. But the one thing that has not changed is our love for spectacle. The grander the narrative, the more willing we are to believe. And what gets grander than Bollywood (after religion and cricket)?

Mainstream Bollywood continues to simplify or whitewash the issues faced by people who are at the margins of society as we continue to ignore them by downplaying their need for and right to justice and life of respect. It is not just Sushant’s family who needs justice, there are millions who need that prime-time slot to tell their stories, people who need us to raise our voices in their support. Boycotting movies and actors does not make us powerful consumers. We are still at the mercy of the media that exploits our obsession, weakness for jingoism and spectacle and the free time at our hands to continue peddling a tragic incident with new genre twists that range from suspense thriller, police procedural, family drama to the supernatural (so filmy). Ask yourself, wouldn’t a share of such coverage do wonders for people and issues that desperately need our attention?

Why we need queer spaces in tattooing [excerpt]

[This is an excerpt from my article published in Tattoo Cultr. Read the full article here.]

Tattoos, as a representative form of a counter-discourse, have surprisingly entered into the popular idiom of things cool, so much so that one might find its counter-culture tag unnecessary. However, to cram the art of tattoos in the chock-a-bloc normative singularity of popular culture would be a gross mistake, for the simple reason that tattoos are not the product of the hollow fetishisms of the star-worshipping, hashtag spewing (okay, hashtags are good but not the excess of it), self(ie)-obsessed, diversity-disapproving, whitewashing (not just Hollywood, , un-fair and un-lovely) culture.

What Tattoos Mean – my views as an outsider

A few weeks ago I had submitted a write up to Tattoo Cultr , on what tattoos mean to an outsider. This post was influenced by my personal views on tattooing and its relevance. Although I have never got around to getting a tattoo done, I would not deny that the idea never crossed my mind. In fact, at one point I really was game for it, but unfortunately it never clicked. Here is why tattooing had me, it still does, intrigued.