Sleep - Dopesmoker
Tee Pee Records
Stoner Doom
2 songs (01:13:07)
Release year: 2003
Tee Pee Records
Reviewed by Koeppe

Issues at the site of production make this album a hard sell for classic status it seems. In terms of sound and style, this album is simply amazing, beyond question. Prior to getting to that, a history lesson is in order explaining why it might not have hit the scene and influenced everyone and everything to follow. Production issues, the complexities of recording an hour long track on reel-to-reel equipment whilst also constantly high for months on end in order to hit the creative space required to work on the track, delayed its release only to be confronted with a label that was unwilling to release the track, as the band presented it, postponed the album’s release for nearly seven years. It was released as an edited and chopped form as Jerusalem, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Dopesmoker was officially released in its most complete form. Rather than preceding, Electric Wizard’s Come My Fanatics or Bongzilla’s and Weedeater’s respective debuts, Dopesmoker was instead released after stoner metal’s emergence on the scene, despite anticipating many of those band’s styles and simply being more epic than they ever imagined being. All of this is a way of saying that Cisneros, Pike, and Hakius were tapping into an innovative sound that would come to shape the genres of not only stoner and doom metal, but also drone metal a la Sunn 0))), for instance, and its reception. Whether or not it inspired particular bands, the album retroactively set the bar to which other bands were to be judged.

For those not in the know, Dopesmoker was a two track LP with an epic title track that lasted for over an hour (and the re-issue’s track is two minutes longer than the original). The composition is not an epic orchestral piece with layers of intricacies and bridges throughout or made up of four movements or something frilly like that. Instead, Dopesmoker is a standard stoner doom track simply stretched out to a stoner’s pace. Youtube oddities speed the track up to 10x the original’s and it sounds comparable to a High on Fire track. With Dopesmoker, you’re plugging in for a journey, not a simple track. Like Electric Wizard’s album, Dopethrone, Dopesmoker can be aurally overwhelming. It is not simply that the first listen leaves you confused or baffled, because digesting it all probably requires at least two listens, but that stoner doom succeeds when it is able to create a wall of noise that washes over the listener, breaking the habituation of embodiment in a way that makes one simply more aware of their being, dude.

The song itself is that of a trek, the lyrics describing an exodus and the music proceeds along at the pace of a march. The song opens up quite minimistically, the first few minutes are simple guitar chords sustained over a period. The ability to keep such a slow pace seems worthy of note. The song continues as Pike simply lets each chord played drone away rather than being linking to any other. The first guitar solo appears at around the fourteen minute mark, breaking through Cisneros’ vocals, the man was obviously stoned the entire time recording when compared to his performances on last year’s Advaitic Songs by Om. Pike’s solos have a characteristic style to them, one of wailing and climbing notes that has remained consistent in the various acts that he has performed with. The track continues repetitiously building without going anywhere; the song precedes through droning whilst never losing the listener. The ritualistic style that Cisneros and Hakius would develop in Om is already present here in its nascent stage as the reverb of the guitars draws the listeners in. Cisneros’ bass chords resound with such weight throughout the track, creating a trance-like hum with each stroke. Near the forty minute mark signals the peak of the track as Pike’s guitar creates a swirling psychedelic sound that is well-suited for the delirium surely to arise in the course of a march across the desert. The guitar is cut off to be replaced by somber bass notes. From this point, the repetition of the main riff becomes a little more forceful, less drawn out, more pressing. The last fifteen minutes rely on the earlier fifty minutes having pounded the riff into your brain for the final payoff to be worth it. Pike wails away on a solo, but ultimately the force of the climax rests on the force of the main riff and Cisneros stretched, deep chant, “DROP—OUT OF LIFE—WITH BONG—IN HAND”.

A short word on Sonic Titan: the track is comparable to other Sleep tracks like the stuff off of Holy Mountain. Its juxtaposition to the title track here makes its production, albeit live, come off as crisp almost, until Cisneros' vocals enter the mix. It's nine minutes of a sick riff in the service of Sabbath worship. Many love it's more straightforward approach compared to the title track, but it lacks the epic nature of the previous track. There is nothing wrong with wearing one's love of Black Sabbath on your sleeve, and these guys do it better than most.

The album is one of those oddities in heavy metal, containing a sixty-three minute long magnum opus that came out after the band had broken up years before. The members involved have re-united in recent years after having started two of the largest bands (Om and High on Fire) in the genre that they had created with their original band. It’s not a tune for everyone, but for those who get it and enjoy it, each listen is an experience. The vibration and rhythm of the song has the ability to wash over the listener and take you to another world.

A side note, in terms of medium, the internet generally has complaints about the quality of the original CD version, something which surpasses my sensitivities. The review here was based on a simultaneous comparison between the original and the re-issue that we received from Southern Lord in digital format. I’m not a vinyl connoisseur, but opinions on the internet say that the re-issue experience is immaculate when spun on your tabletop, even if you have to flip the disc over midway through given its length. The differences that I notice on my computer speakers between the two versions is the overall tightness of the guitar sound at parts and the heaviness of the drumming on the re-issue, two things that I don’t see as taking away from the original experience, while making it sound all the better. Also with the re-issue, you won’t get the original’s live version of Sonic Titan, but instead a live rendition from 1994 of Holy Mountain, but the vinyl re-issue has that live track and Sonic Titan live.

Killing Songs :
Koeppe quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Sleep that we have reviewed:
Sleep - The Sciences reviewed by Goat and quoted 88 / 100
Sleep - Sleep's Holy Mountain reviewed by Khelek and quoted CLASSIC
Sleep - Volume One reviewed by Khelek and quoted 86 / 100
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