Local music: Sleepers Awake

  • Photo by Joe Maiorana
By Columbus Alive
From the September 27, 2012 edition

In 2012, the average ear-budded, multi-tabbed listener demands instant gratification more than ever. But writing hit singles just isn’t in Sleepers Awake’s blood.

“We tried it on the last album,” guitarist Rob Bradley said. “It was called ‘Won’t Let Go,’ and it didn’t go well.”

So in a move against the grain of a short-attention-span generation, they made a 69-minute conceptual epic instead. And contrary to conventional wisdom, such long-winded exposition yielded their most gripping, satisfying work to date. They’ll celebrate the release of “Transcension” Saturday at Kobo with support from Drose and Neon Warship.

“We knew we wanted to do a concept record in the grand tradition of prog concept records,” drummer Chris Burnsides said. In other words: “At its core, we’re probably just aping our role models.”

Those models include Mastodon, Tool, Opeth and Rush — bands never accused of keeping imagination or run-time in check. In a move reminiscent of such nerd-metal luminaries, “Transcension” functions as an album-length prequel to “Priests of the Fire,” the title track from Sleepers Awake’s 2009 debut.

Consider “Priests of the Fire” the short story that spawned a novel. Burnsides, singer-guitarist Chris Thompson and bassist Kedar Hiremath spent hours hashing out the lyrics. What emerged was a tangled, fantastical narrative about a familiar topic: a protagonist who wants to change the status quo but is doomed to become it.

“It’s all cohesive by the end, but it’s kind of a convoluted path,” Thompson said.

Just like their heroes, Sleepers Awake’s music is bound to polarize. But if their genre of choice is highly niche-oriented, it’s a niche that thrives worldwide. Thanks to websites like Bandcamp, Sleepers Awake’s fan base includes a 14-year-old Norwegian boy and a pair of dudes from Florida who used free plane tickets to fly to Columbus to see them play.

“I think we have a fan on every continent,” Burnsides said, “and that’s kind of satisfying.”