Having just opened for Sleep Token and Architects in Germany, Northlane are, in football parlance, match fit for this show in the second city. The Aussies are given both a better reception than many support acts but also at 50 minutes, a much longer set than most too. They are in the mood to capitalise on both. They are high on energy and Marcus Bridge is an engaging singer. Musically they do that modern prog metal thing (think Periphery more than Pendulum) but with an electro flourish. “Zen” and “4D” are both excellent songs, but its “Quantum Flux” – which becomes a real singalong – and “Clockwork” that are real audience favourites. “Bloodline sees them pop off down a harsher, electro back road marked “Nine Inch Nails” and by the times that “Talking Heads” explodes to give them a real crescendo, they can consider this a job well done. “Who’s ready for Sleep Token?” Bridge had said a little earlier. That he’d followed this up with the thought that “well that’s enough about them. Northlane are on stage” is a mark of his confidence, but also how well his band are going down here. Northlane, then, on the fast lane to success? Given that they formed in 2009 that might be a little too on the nose, but everything seems to be pointing in their direction.

Right. Before we start, lets get it right. I am not easily swayed by hype. Masks? Yep, seen them before mate. Enigmatic bands? Yeah, I am in my late 40’s pal. Play me some songs.

 In short: There’s a lot of reasons that I wouldn’t normally be anywhere near a band who claim to be ‘united in their worship of an ancient deity identified by them as “Sleep”, who appeared to the band’s lead singer, “Vessel”, in a dream.’ as Sleep Token do. Moreover, there’s only one reason to be here: Sleep Token are very, very good.

When the singles “Chokehold” and “The Summoning” came out just after Christmas, they got under my skin in a way that most do not. They were Tool. But they weren’t. They were a pop band. But they were ferociously heavy. On occasion they sang love songs of a fragile beauty, but not like anyone else. It’s these contradictions that bring me here, never mind the back story and the pretty costumes.

They open with the two new songs. They don’t do convention, and yet in many ways, they are like a lot of modern bands. A wonderfully pleasing lack of boundaries, scant interest in “genres”. If ever there was a band that epitomised the idea that everything was available in the modern world, and we can pick the best bits off the a la carte menu it’s right here.

There is a lot of stuff from the album they put out couple of years ago “Hypnosis” and “Mine” are the type of sweeping, ambitious soundscapes that so categorise ST’s work. In another world they’d be a straight ahead prog band, but in this one they are whatever they choose, whether its electronic, R and B or metal as much as prog. It’s all in here.

“Dark Signs” is built around a thunderous bass, while “Nazareth” is hypnotic, fragile even, but those seem to be the pillars this is built on. Indeed, a thought strikes in “Like That”: this is not a visceral show at all. There’s no bombast, no interaction, really. Yet it compels. Vessel has that ….something. The mystique doesn’t just come from the mask. He lurks, yet he dances, he conducts, he’s the ringmaster. And he’s got a stunning voice.

Confident enough to debut two new songs, “Aqua Regina” is the most immediate, while “Granite” will no doubt become a favourite. They are sandwiched between a sensational “Atlantic”, the slow building classic that most seems to represent the groups intent and “Alkaline”.

An example of how “normal” they are if you will comes towards the end. There’s a beguiling “Higher” and a beautiful “The Love You Want” and then they encore. Just like every other big rock band does.

They return for “The Night Does Not Belong To God” before cutting loose (as much as this ever does) with some supreme modern metal in the shape of “The Offering”.

This is an outfit on the cusp. The next time they play it’ll be in arenas. It’s obvious. This is a force, heading inexorably along the path they decide for themselves. The light show, the confidence, the vibe, its an arena show in all but name anyway, lets be honest. And lets also be honest that Sleep Token are brilliant at what they do. They’ve played their roles to perfection here and this feels like a performance more than a gig.

There’s a lot of talk about who they are. Forget that and tedious online attempts to unmask Vessel and the rest, and focus instead on what they are, because as always – but especially here – that is far more interesting, and just as hard to fathom.

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