The Greek band SLEEPSTREAM have birthed the world a sophomore record in the shape of “They Flew in Censored Skies”. It’s an album that feels like it comes from a fear-ridden society that suffers under the heavy hand of a strangely omni-present power. Is it right-wing extremism? Is it financial crisis? Is it the ever greater urge from the European Union to perform on an economic level? With this album, Sleepstream seems to paint a dark picture of the current state of affairs in the band’s homeland, yet at least it results in good post-rock music.
“They Flew in Censored Skies” is a bulky album; nine songs add up to exactly an hour of music. Most songs are seven or eight minutes in length and every one of them has its own story line, its own character arc.
RELEASE DATE: 07 March 2014 LABEL: Fluttery Records
Pre-Flight as an album introducer sounds pretty intense and it sets the mood for the sixty minutes to come. However, the two minutes of noisy guitars seem pretty detached from the song that follows, “The Sail of the Mary Celeste”. I’m not saying that the introduction of an album and the first actual song should blend seamlessly, but in my eyes they need to have some sort of connection. In the case of Sleepstream, the intro just stops too abruptly, loosing part of its power. “The Sail of Mary Celeste” starts out super heavy, making you forget all about that abrupt transition from “Pre-Flight”. It’s a nice rocker that doesn’t really paint a picture until you reach the mid-way mark from where rolling thunder-drums and alarm emulating guitars colour the sky dark. Later the band launches an epic melody which sadly enough doesn’t sound as majestic as I would want it to be. There are more of these moments on the album where I would want the music to swell and become more voluminous.
At times, “They Flew in Censored Skies” is a really heavy and dark record, yet I wouldn’t call this album a post-metal record or anything the like. The Sleepstream ethos is way different from anything Cult of Luna or Isis would do. There is definitely still a post-rock feel to this record that even “Cirrus Formed Antennae” with its sludgy riffing can’t shake. The violin part that marks the start of “The Nacre Top of the Sky” seems to recall a darkness that goes even further back than Black Sabbath or Arthur Brown. A sense of mourning that is present in Eastern European dirge music and to which funeral doom metal bands frequently refer.
Together with a cello, said violin forms a string-section that holds its own quite nicely on this record. Without becoming cinematic they weigh well up against the rest of the band, with the arrangement of their parts being elegant, perhaps at times, remaining a bit simple.
Sleepstream is a band in which the resulting music far surpasses the ability of the individual band members. Each instrument is played with sufficient skill, yet no one in the band is a virtuoso in what they do. However, the moment a song shifts into being and an image awakens in front of a receptive audience, something good happens. “Lucy’s Dream is an Overdose” for example is terrifyingly dramatic, partially due to the song title, yet the music is essential in completing the image. The song’s climax just seems to pound, on and on until the music lifts off into album ender “Cycle 24”. This being the best song on the record, I might say, it is the song that wakes the listener up. It is the song from which you can hear it is the end of the album. It reminds me of Toto ending their seventh album with “Home of the Brave”, a song that lasts over six minutes and that has a similar guitar lead that they keep repeating. The Toto-song may have been a bigger hit, but the way Sleepstream manage to shift the same leitmotif into different shapes makes this song far more interesting. “Cycle 24”: it is one last round, one driving melody that seems to ring out into the night.
“They Flew in Censored Skies” is an album that troubles me. Front to back, it is a record that is incredibly picturesque, but only if you’re really focusing on it. I find that when I listen to for example progressive rock, the music always stays there at the back of my mind, but with this album, which undoubtedly is a very good post-rock record, it is more like classical music. You can loose yourself entirely when you listen to something like Brahms, but the moment you focus your mind on something else the music is lost and all you hear is the movement of air on your ear drums. “They Flew in Censored Skies” is a good record, but it transcends nothing. The songs are well-written and aptly executed, but there are few moments that totally blow me away.
Sleepstream’s sophomore album feels like a warm dystopian dream; dense and dreary. It is an album in which you can loose yourself, but it’s also an album that can loose itself in you. A simple flaw which most fans will probably overcome without effort.