Before sitting down to write this review of Sheffield-based band While She Sleep’s second full-length LP Brainwashed I wracked my brain and tried to think of a strictly metal release that I’ve listened to more over the last few years than the bands first, 2012’s This Is The Six. I couldn’t, and that should immediately give some sort of indication as to how highly I value While She Sleeps within their respective genre. It also means that there’ll likely be an unhealthy dose of bias this time around, but hey, you should probably know by now that While She Sleeps are very good at what they do, and their second, best full-length only confirms that point from its offset.
Over the last three years, since the release of This Is The Six, While She Sleeps’ sound hasn’t particularly changed, but they seem to have honed it and put it to full, blistering use, meaning that a band who were already better than most have only grown better. It’s blatantly apparent throughout Brainwashed, and if you’ve seen the bands recent video for single Our Legacy then it’ll come as little surprise. You see them grow in the video, literally, and the pay-off from that growth is a record as cohesive, controlled and chaotic as Brainwashed is. These guys have been together for a while now, nine years, and it shows on tracks like the aforementioned one in particular, which is huge, blisteringly boisterous and polished. It’s a common trend throughout, and every aspect of Brainwashed feels like the result of a shared, charged intimacy and love for making music. It makes tracks such as Our Legacy and early highlight Your Evolution sound incredibly confident as they speed along at breakneck pace, aflame with a common solidarity, inviting a listener in to share in it. Seriously, listen to either and try not to shout along; it’ll likely prove a struggle during the lines ‘I should count my blessings for all I have… / Loyal to the last breath I take / Our legacy won’t be wasted on me’ on the former. Both are emphatic, Our Legacy moreso, and the lines above are one of many instances on Brainwashed to feature numerous vocalists, giving a larger than life, encompassing sort of feel which is difficult to resist. These anthemic and regularly cathartic gang vocal moments are frequent, and they pack a punch where Taylor’s might not individually, collective voices. In light of recent throat surgery the frontman lacks a small amount of his previous vocal bite, as is to be expected, but the often savage instrumental nature of Brainwashed seems to mask over his slightly diminished guttural roars. The record also features some clean vocals from lead guitarist Sean Long, on Four Walls and New World Torture namely, and these moments work well, bringing some variety, almost sounding like Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) guest spots.
As breathtakingly strong as Brainwashed is, the album suffers – if only minimally – from a few fillers, four to be precise, and although they break up the constant aggression there is a slight temptation to skip them on repeat listens, although each does add something, to differing extents, We Are Alive At Night the most effective particularly, leading nicely into Our Legacy, the reserved calm before the raucous storm. First track The Divide opens the record with a slow, building momentum, eventually erupting into the bludgeoning New World Torture, which sets the tone both sonically and lyrically, a savage protest song featuring the lines ‘This is for the pigs at the top / You know nothing of us / You know nothing of us’. Lyrically speaking Brainwashed treads the familiar ground of its predecessors, but it does so with an increased level of venomous swagger, encouraging reflection and revolution, a snarling, spitting behemoth with one Hell of an incentive to let loose. It stomps from one fierce message / battle cry to the next, and it does so consistently with roof-raising levels of aggression, never failing to inspire some sort of listener response. Brainwashed is furious in most ways, but it also has a lyrical spine to it, proving that there’s still so much more to While She Sleeps than breakdowns and spiralling guitar solos – of which Long delivers frequently. Reading / listening through it, the record serves as a call to arms, it has a purpose, and that purpose is to spark a reaction. Brainwashed is a Molotov, and as Taylor yells on the second track ‘Put a nail in my coffin and light it up / Our condition is critical.’
There are times on Brainwashed where it’s easy to forget about the bands previous outputs, and compared to both This Is The Six and mini-album The North Stands For Nothing their most recent effort sounds like an improvement in almost every regard, the best thing While She Sleeps have done to date, crushing and technical. See the last thirty seconds of the title track for a shining and striking example of the latter, and take Method In Madness as a brutal signifier of the former. This fourteenth track goes nuclear early and only manages to up the ante, before descending to haunting cleaner vocals towards its death, or fallout. It’s as manic as its title suggests, and along with the rallying, rousing Modern Minds it makes the deluxe version of Brainwashed a must-buy over the standard edition. Elsewhere Four Walls and Trophies Of Violence mark the best songs the band have released, both exceptional, with Four Walls their most anthemic by some distance, a crowd pleaser in almost every way, the tracks full-frontal assault opening with the lines ‘Everybody dies with a debt / We all die for a life that we fear we will only forget.‘ It’s blaringly brilliant, and Trophies… is pleasing in a slightly different way, featuring several throwbacks to This Is The Six‘s Dead Behind The Eyes, which had been my favourite While She Sleeps until the eleventh on Brainwashed. It’s easy to single out certain tracks as standout, as I always do, but in truth, all of those that aren’t fillers are excellent; the as-yet unmentioned Torment is as tortured as you’d expect, whereas No Sides, No Enemies, the penultimate track if you make the wrong call and go for the standard edition, sees things out on an undisputable high. To put it bluntly, Brainwashed is just really fucking good, and if you’re still reading this instead of listening to it then you’re only wasting time.
To eventually wrap things up, with Brainwashed While She Sleeps have delivered a barnstorming release which will prove very difficult to beat by their genre counterparts. It’s passionate, pained and poignant, backed up by a bullish ferocity and glaring level of talent. From the already excellent This Is The Six the Sheffield five-piece have upped their game considerably, and the result is an often mind-blowing record which downright demands to be listened to, making it 2015’s strongest heavy release to date – it’ll likely remain so for quite some time.
Listen to: Four Walls / Our Legacy / Trophies Of Violence / or, you know… all of it