"Drop out of life with bong in hand/ Follow the Smoke towards the Riff-filled land."
...and with those simple lyrics the band SLEEP has lead us through the desert in their caravan for the best part of the past God knows how many years. 2012 saw Southern Lord calling up their dealers to make the trek through the desert once more for good smoke and SLEEP simply said "We'll be there, duuuude" (said in stereotypical pothead voice ala Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times At Richmond High"). Now with that said, I think this review will definitely go into a bit of the pot sub-culture however you may think of it. Me personally, I'm in a once-in-a-blue-moon smoker. I enjoy toking on a good doobie every once in a while and basically saying "Fuck it" and just chilling/relaxing in the right mindset. And that's all I will say about that. But with SLEEP, they are the musical version of getting burnt to a crisp.
For one, they are simply heavy. Like REALLY heavy. Like I am talking this goes beyond your CELTIC FROSTs, BLACK SABBATHs, CATHEDRALs, NEUROSIS', SWANS', NAPALM DEATHs, GODFLESHs, and all of the proper heavy bands throughout the ages. SLEEP is heavy as in just the simplicity of their riffs. And heavy amount of distortion and feedback. SLEEP are the band that you listen to when you want everything in life to simply fuzz, and fade quickly into the background amongst the indo smoke. When life turns bleak and black, SLEEP is there to green things up a little bit if you can't tell what I mean by now. They are the ultimate Stoner band that combines the culture of Mother Earth's natural remedy for everyday life and the simplicity doom of BLACK SABBATH and create their own world of dragons, druids, gypsys, and astrological signs to the point where even riff GOD himself Tony Iommi of BLACK SABBATH said how SLEEP was the closest band he would compare to what he was doing when BLACK SABBATH were in their prime during their first six albums. I don't know about you, but that's one hell of a compliment.
Now for the history lesson: SLEEP's "Dopesmoker" is really simply the re-titled version/alternate version of SLEEP's opus "Jerusalem." "Jerusalem a.k.a." is a one-song hour-long opus dedicated to the sweet leaf. And the band was supposed to release this through London Records. Well you can imagine what the big label thought about that idea..."What and who the fuck are we going to give this to, or what to even do with it?" Well, London basically cut them loose, and SLEEP went further back into the underground with various bootleg versions. "Jerusalem” a.k.a. “Dopesmoker" was released through Rise Above records and a couple other labels bootlegged the album. SLEEP basically didn't like that version, or any other version for that matter and it went out-of-print for a while so they re-released it under a different title and it was an alternative take which was a more heavier/distorted version of that album (depends on who you ask....different versions/different opinions). Reason why all of the happened and the band's legacy in the Reader's Digest version: record labels didn't know what to do with an hour-long tribute to basically getting high-as-fuck and playing some of the heaviest riffs this side of Tony Iommi. Southern Lord also gave "Dopesmoker" an entire new make-over with the original 2003 version starting with the artwork and a change in the extra songs. I'll go more into the make-over later on because I don't want to forget anything else important at the moment. On top of all of this, lyrically this is some next-level stuff. SLEEP combines marijuana usage with Old Testament ideaology to create their own spiritual religion. Even the language they use in the lyrics make plain old English seem stupid and complicated at times. I'll give you an example;
"Judgement soon come to mankind,
Green herbsman serve rightful king,
Hemp seed Caravan carries
Rides out believer with the spliff aflame
Marijuaunt escapes Earth to cultivate
Grow room is Church Temple of the new Stoner breed"
...and the only way to partake in this ritual is simply to huff, puff, pass, and headbang (if you can that is), to the mammoth-sized riffs. Of course it goes to say that those mammoth-sized riffs only come from one special person and that person being Matt Pike. It's no longer this big secret of who he is. HIGH ON FIRE? Yeah he went off and did some albums with them that I honestly never paid much attention to. Not saying the stuff he did after SLEEP was bad but it never compared to the wall of distortion that he and SLEEP created in the 90's for the most part. And yes I am biased in the fact that I personally feel that Matt Pike did his best stuff in SLEEP. In contrast, SLEEP and HIGH ON FIRE are two different entities in the Metal universe. Yeah I'll give him credit that HIGH ON FIRE had some good songs here and there...but I'm rooting for the SLEEP team basically. Backing up Matt Pike is bassist Al Cisneros with his ultra-low bass adding more of a vibrating feel to that wall of distortion. Al's voice is halfway between the sound of Ozzy Osbourne smoking a bong and some random throwback pot dealer from the 70's pulling up in a van with Dragons and Wizards painted on the side, shag orange rug and a bed in the back on the inside, and him hanging out the window with a bandanna around his forehead saying "Ass, cash, or grass, nobody gets a free ride man"....and then it's off to some trippin’ in the mountains where you can hear BLUE OYSTER CULT's "Don't Fear The Reaper" playing in the background as you sit with the Scooby-Doo-like gang toking up and having good times. Drummer Chris Hakius is pounding on his drums and making that distortion and feedback vibrate through various empty waves of mass, matter, time, and space leaving behind various illuminating lights and provides the extra oomph in the riffs in making them sound like a Wooly Mammoth is stomping on your balls the entire time.
As I said about the make-over that Southern Lord gave "Dopesmoker", it's a ballsy fucking move in my personal opinion. And to the majority of SLEEP fans as well. You don't mess with SLEEP. The record-labels earlier in SLEEP career tried to but made them a bigger monster in the Metal universe. Well Southern Lord got it right. First off let's starts with the artwork; the original release through TeePee Records in 2003 had what I would call sub-normal artwork. Something that did give a sense of middle-eastern feel too it, possibly a Zoroastrian origin. Interesting concept, but I felt it lacked something. NOW with the 2012 version, Southern Lord gets famed artist (possibly due from Matt Pike's personal reference) Arik Roper who turns Tee Pee's somewhat dull artwork attempt into a way better image of what you are getting with "Dopesmoker".....a vibrant, blazing hot desert on some unknown distant planet in another far away galaxy, where mysterious figures trek across the scorching hot dunes and plains of this dried-out wasteland in search of the oasis of green. With them are mutated-like camels and the figures are carrying futuristic-like bongs where they smoke it like they are supposed to be drinking water. The colors soak through the digipack cover and give off a radiant 60's/70's feel to it, almost like a classic comic strip out of Heavy Metal Magazine. It's the kind of album cover that if it came with a fold out poster it would be pinned-up right next to the Mustang and the infamous pic of Farah Fawcett with her eraser nipples poking through while you lay on your bed with your huge headphones covering your ears with your long greasy hair dangling in your eyes and you reach underneath your bed for that shoebox and grab a joint and light it with the window open hoping Mom doesn't catch you.....imagery aside, we get something of a new extra track as well. The original version had the entire "Jerusalem” a.k.a. “Dopesmoker" song on it and one extra track which was a live version of "Sonic Titan"....this version contains a live version of the title track from "Holy Mountain" which makes it more like a basic intro to SLEEP haze and smoke-filled world.
I could go into the song itself, but it's really up to the listener to hear SLEEP's magnum opus to getting high. And it's a long one too. In reality where most bands re-issue and re-master their albums and they end up completely devoid of substance, SLEEP's 2012 version of "Dopesmoker" will be a must-have within a few years. Oh and if you ever get the chance to see SLEEP live, do so. You will reach a state of nirvana like no other band. Hands down this is going into my top albums list of 2012. Get it, tune in, drop out, light-up and smoke out.
..."Proceeds the Weedian, Nazareth!"
(Online July 9, 2012)