ALBUM REVIEW – “Broken Compass” by Sleepwave

The demise of Underoath as a creative entity was rendered all the more bitter to their fans by the quality of their final output. Ø (Disambiguation) represented a perfect culmination of the steady climb they’d scaled for more than a decade, from Christian metal also-rans to idolised trailblazers. A big part of that climb had been made on the shoulders of vocalist Spencer Chamberlain, who a year after their dissolution has returned with a very different animal in tow. With the collapse of the group that defined him providing the perfect ammunition for lyrical content, and a newfound freedom to torch the rulebook and adopt an entirely different approach to the creation of music, he’s taken the bull by the horns and, together with collaborator Stephen Bowman, birthed the decidedly different Sleepwave.

What’s clear from the outset is that Broken Compass is a wholesale departure from the frontman’s previous outfit. The most obvious comparison is to alt-industrial types Filter; the Sleepwave sound shares the same synthesis of cold electronic washes and anthemic, grungy choruses. Loud/quiet dynamics make their presence felt on ‘Rock and Roll is Dead and So Am I’, pushing to their furthest extremes on ‘Disgusted : Disguised’. It’s a technique used by so many bands that getting it right has become a real skill, and in truth too much of this record feels too clinical, constructed rather than allowed to naturally manifest. Real energy permeates hardcore anomaly ‘The Wolf’, with its menacing pre-chorus and tantalising dash of screaming, but this aside little of the Underoath fire has filtered across; that in itself is not a problem, but the lack of another clear feeling to carry the material is.

Broken Compass prefers to slither than slash, and this comes with mixed consequences. For one, both ‘Whole Again’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ are more tired Nine Inch Nails nostalgia than groundbreaking fusion rock. Good melodies are often let down by their misguided deployment: ‘Hold Up My Head’ boasts an intriguing intro that feels more like a conclusion, rendering the rest of the song anti-climactic. It’s not helped by Chamberlain’s often lukewarm vocal performance, which shorn of its aggression fails to make its mark except in flashes, such as more user-friendly big rock opener ‘Paper Planes’ (further elevated by a wonderfully nihilistic lyric). Dashes of greatness are spoiled by inability to escape the mediocre: the title track’s spacious three-dimensional soundscape let down by a homogenous chorus section. There’s not enough unpredictability, only letting loose from time to time (slicing riffs cutting into an upbeat refrain on ‘Repeat Routine’ the best example), to make the album appealing from an intellectual standpoint, but not enough obvious hooks to give it great accessibility.

While it’s immediately apparent what Sleepwave want to be, their debut album fails to convince that they know how to be good at being it in this early stage in their development. The refusal of its creators to adhere to the expected and their wholehearted leap into pastures new is fantastic, but more experience in the field is needed before truly excellent results can emerge. Much like the earlier Underoath records, in fact, Broken Compass shows potential but possesses a naivety that denies it greatness – from another perspective, it’s a good record made to look average by the competition it will inevitably invite comparison to.

Rating: 6 / 10

Michael Bird

 ‘Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I’



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