Like many bands fed up with what they hear on the radio, Sleepers Awake set out four years ago to fashion something stimulating.

Like many bands fed up with what they hear on the radio, Sleepers Awake set out four years ago to fashion something stimulating.

"Nothing that was coming out was particularly exciting us," guitarist Rob Bradley said.

So they tried to come up with music that didn't mesh with knuckle-dragging nu metal and saccharine sweet "Stacy's Mom" fare. Judging from their debut, Priests of the Fire - set for release Friday at the Scarlet and Grey Cafe - they pulled it off.

There are plenty of touchstones in Sleepers Awake's sound, from the Maynard James Keenan corner of modern rock (Tool, A Perfect Circle) to metal forefathers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the hipster-friendly stoner rock of Queens of the Stone Age. But the self-described prog-rock band is tough to pigeonhole.

They play like a metal band, with chunky low-end riffs, double-bass drum fills and harmonized guitar solos, but as drummer Chris Burnside plainly stated, "It's definitely not metal."

Songs like "Won't Let Go" and "The Ancient" blend those hard-nosed genre signifiers with pop elements. In some moments, it works wonderfully, but the band also treads dangerously close to Godsmack territory at times. Vocalist Chris Thompson's somber bellow usually delivers a dramatic payoff but occasionally skirts that post-Vedder realm that has poisoned so much of modern rock.

More often than not, though, Thompson's vocals are an asset that helps to further blur Sleepers Awake's genre lines.

"Even if I wanted to, I couldn't scream or growl," Thompson said, laughing. "So I'm stuck with singing gently."

The band's surest strength is winding song structures that rarely repeat yet still manage to satisfy pop cravings without the benefit of repetition. There's a melodic smartness about these riffs that transcends short attention spans and achieves the kind of sonic landscape the band is shooting for.

Then there's the subject matter: historical fiction and fantasy stories ripped straight from the "nerdy prog-rock bands" this crew idolizes.

Though Thompson said there may be some allegorical meaning buried in tales like "Priests of the Fire" and "The Colossus That Bestrode the World," he mostly prefers to write story-songs because they fit with the linear song structures and they stray from tired romantic tropes.

"It's just pure imagination and art," Thompson said. "Even the music itself tells a story."

E-mail your local music news to Chris DeVille at cdeville@columbusalive.com