What happened when Sleep Token headlined Wembley Arena

Last night, Sleep Token rounded off a sensational year with a headline performance at Wembley Arena. And while tragedy struck leader Vessel, the band’s fans turned it into a show for the ages…

What happened when Sleep Token headlined Wembley Arena
Rishi Shah
Adamross Williams

Since the stroke of midnight on January 5, when their monumental single Chokehold dropped out of the blue, this year has belonged to Sleep Token. Now, as live music winds down for Christmas, it seems only right that the mysterious phenomenon have the final word of 2023 at their biggest headline show to date.

With tickets selling out within 10 minutes (yes, really!), this is nothing short of a crowning moment for the enigmatic masked metallers – publicly stepping up to the fabled next level. Unveiling new masks for band members II, III and IV for the first time, alongside a sensational, kaleidoscopic lighting rig, the stage is set for the greatest – and most important – show of their lives.

After industrial noise-botherers HEALTH open proceedings, Sleep Token’s wall of sound canons around the OVO Arena Wembley as opener Chokehold springs to life. Bombastic anthem Hypnosis and the brutal Vore come as the catharsis-loaded follow-up, exemplary of the masterful mix of emotions we've become accustomed to from such a flawless live band.

But, seven songs into the set, things take an extraordinary turn.

As the band walk offstage, silence falls over Wembley. Nearly two minutes later, frontman Vessel emerges with a member of Sleep Token’s crew, who breaks the unexpected news to the gathered worshippers. “So, Vessel can’t sing. But you guys can, so you guys need to sing with us. We’re doing the set, he’s staying on stage… but he’s not well.”

Vessel embraces his technician. Perhaps for the first time tonight, we remember that underneath the mask, there is a human being. Shell-shock turns to rapturous applause around the cavernous arena, as the faithful show their unconditional support for Vessel, and his courage to confront such a harsh truth, with the stakes so high.

Enter the definitive track of this era – The Summoning – right on cue. The crowd immediately understand the task at hand, bellowing each and every lyric as Vessel extravagantly saunters around the stage, orchestrating proceedings, giving every ounce of energy he can muster. Given the gravity of the situation, there isn't one sign of panic. The rest of the band maintain the impeccably high standards they’ve set, delivering that signature monstrous breakdown with cataclysmic effect.

Granite and The Love You Want follow, as Wembley descends into full-blown karaoke. During the final stages of the latter number, Vessel resumes duties on the microphone, as a sea of heart gestures bursts from the crowd. Making his way to the piano for the heart-wrenching Atlantic, his sobs can be heard over the speakers, as he battles through the starkness of the verse. Hitting some devastatingly high notes on Nazareth, it's a powerful display of resilience, and one that almost feels fuelled by the power of the crowd.

While Vessel’s voice may be the story of the night, the Sleep Token light-show is a close second. A unique, laser-heavy display fit for the occasion, it's symbolic of a band ready to seize their status as an arena artist, as the various colours and combinations intertwine. With their towering logo overseeing proceedings, the stage also welcomes dancers for the likes of Ascensionism, perfectly complementing the trap-pop that sits somewhere between the track’s balladry and heaviness.

As Sleep Token bow out with The Offering and the first performance of Blood Sport since May 2021, the overwhelming feeling emanating from the tearful Vessel and co. is gratitude. The sense of togetherness – cultivated by a band with such loyal fans – carries the night, fighting back against what could have been a disaster.

As Sleep Token’s crew and dancers join the band on stage for the customary photos, the size of the occasion hits home, as the masked men reveal a glimpse of their humanity once more. Tonight isn't perfect, but it's a triumph in the face of adversity, and a true celebration of not only Sleep Token's journey but the special community they are building. The worship will continue.

READ THIS: Sleep Token: “Our identity is represented through the art itself”

Pick up your copy of our winter issue for an exclusive Sleep Token centrefold poster.

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