Review || While She Sleeps - "So What?"

While She Sleeps is one of the bands that I've been following for years yet I've only seen once on a festival setting and, oddly enough, I never felt the urge to chase around Europe. I knew I could always go back to the albums and blast the shit out of them while moshing by myself in my livingroom and it would feel just as good as the show. The band returns on March 1st with "So What?", their fourth full-length studio album, which comes two years after the critically acclaimed "You Are We" and a commenteray that accompanied it was that "[the album] is too intelligent for the mass general public to grasp". Although I don't fully disagree with that, I don't wholeheartedly embrace it either and in this text, I will attempt to prove why.

There's a thin line between where While She Sleeps is being serious and where they're essentially being dorks and just having fun. The overall musicianship of WSS is indisputable and the Sheffield-based powerhouse clearly established that with the first EP, "The North Stands For Nothing" which created their recognizable trademark sound very early on. Nine years later, the band isn't afraid to throw new things and elements in the mix. Does it make sense? Not always but everything seems to blend together and that is definitely speaks volumes on their craftsmanship. The album has a genuine and unapologetic punk rock attitude which is diguised in a brilliant way; they choose to trade heavy sound for intensity (vocal, musical, you name it) in a way that wouldn't work for most bands. The sound becomes more polished, more well-rounded and easily accesssible to non-core music enthusiasts (the loyal fans would already follow the Sleeps brothers to the edge of the world if they had to and therefore need no furter convincing). Dissect "Inspire", for example. The track consists of all the usual components that would deem it as a hit song; an upbeat rhythm, melodic vocals, a catchy chorus and a social message. Fairly simple recipe, right? Wrong. It takes actual skill to produce a more generic outcome which will appeal to a broader audience without it being uninspired, and at the same time for the band to stay true to who they are. This exactly is the reason I think While She Sleeps is one of the best bands of our time.
"So What?" also sports a deep confidence in how the band is able to "cheat" on certain aspects in order to transform them into a stunning live performance. For the most part, this translates to lifting pressure off of vocalist Lawrence "Loz" Taylor. Splitting the vocal duties is very cleverly played, the way it evolved over time. On one hand, it allows guitarists Mat Welsh and Sean Long to enrich the sound with different tones (resorting to cleaner vocals works like a charm too); on the other Loz, whose throat never fully recovered from surgeries, is able to pump the crowd by joining them and passing them the mic, and occasionally jump off balconies. If their sound was anything less than anthemic, this would have backfired immediately. However, there is one thing that feels foreign, especially in correlation with the live performance, and this is how they push the longer lyrics to fit into certain vocal lines. I have a theory that, when the band was first starting out and it was just 5 guys having fun, they never really bothered to write complex lyrics. As soon as they became the voice of their generation, they started introducing deeper meaning to their lyrics which, eventually, led to the latter being too inflated for the vocal lines. Since stretching the verses wasn't a viable option, they sped up the singing. At a concert, one person running and jumping around wouldn't be able to pull it off but three people can. Finally, and while we're at it, I'd be lying if I said that I don't see that most songs were written to be performed straight away. There are basic metalcore nuances, big choruses/singalongs and a feeling of resurgency which need a big crowd to be further enhanced and exalted and, in a way, I think this is taking away from the essence/quality of the songs themselves. 

So, what's the final verdict? "So What?" is a strong album from many aspects; the flow is definitely seamless and the tracks not once fail to keep the listener's interest. If I had to pick any favorites, I'd probably go with "Haunt Me", "Set You Free", "Good Grief", and "Gates Of Paradise". I must admit that it still hasn't fully grown on me, therefore my approach is in a gingerly manner. I do recognize that it's a definite step forward for While She Sleeps but we need to be factual with something; they aren't reinventing the wheel or redefining their genre, no. They are allocating their resources more efficiently. They just choose to do it in a pure, challenging and creative way -and at the end of the day, that's all that counts.
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