When paths diverge… only to collide.
It has been a while since any transmissions from the godfathers of stoner doom have been received. Sure, there was a one-song EP that saw the replacement of Chris Hakius by Neurosis’ drummer, Jason Roeder. About a decade prior to The Clarity, Sleep released a new remix / remaster of what remains to this day one of the genre’s definitive masterpieces, Jerusalem. The Dopesmoker version has since been released 12 different times between 2003 and 2016, the fan favorite depicting a bunch of interplanetary bong worshipers walking in single file to hide their numbers. If there was ever any question as to whether or not Oakland’s lovable ganja knights were as serious about their love for Mary Jane as they proclaim, just think about this: Until the twentieth day of the fourth month of the two thousand and eighteenth year of somebody’s LORD, Sleep wrote and released three songs in 26 fucking years. THREE.
The above statement is by no means meant to diminish the insane amount of work Pike, Cisneros, and Hakius have put in over the years, both in Sleep and in their other projects, namely Om and the beloved High On Fire, the latter of which questionably remains the most internationally popular band out of the three when it comes to record sales (for now). While High On Fire, lead by Matt Pike’s anvil-weighted riffs and tremendously charming personality, has put in considerably more work than the other bands mentioned, it is Cisneros’ meditative and guitarless Om that seems to have had the greatest amount of influence on Sleep during its very long off-season.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a few small puffs from the joint I rolled earlier…
The edibles I consumed a few hours ago are finally starting to kick in…
Next up, The Sciences takes an interesting turn, as “Sonic Titan,” a track that has only seen live recordings in various forms, rears its head yet again, this time finally earning its place on a full-length. If there is a minor criticism to hurl at this album, it’s that the transition from new-sounding Sleep goes immediately back to songs-that-make-you-forget-where-you-were Sleep. Surely, the practice of dissecting all of the differences between different recordings of Dopesmoker and Jerusalem is far too pedantic for a sound within which one is actually supposed to get lost. Perhaps that’s a reminder Sleep wants its listeners to have. The very first recording of “Sonic Titan,” which was actually performed in front of a live audience in a much faster pace than the most recent version, would have perhaps fit in slightly better, but the band obviously chose the heavy route this time ’round. Like “old” Sleep, it’s fun and even a little disorienting until the heavy riffage periodically kicks in. The upside is that Pike really shows off his skills here, unlike the original version in which Ciseros’ bass soloing definitely steals the show. The guitars and bass near the end of the song seem to be soloing at once, which would make it more of a duet and holy balls it’s just really cool to see this band playing together again, isn’t it?
If the first half of the album is a demonstration of all the styles the band members have mastered over the years, side B is truly where the band hones in on its refreshed songwriting ability by piecing together all of said styles cohesively. “Antarcticans Thawed” is a great representation of Sleep’s knack for riding out long, drawn out riffs that give Roeder the chance to really solidify his still-new position in the band. The song is about Matterhorn’s children being set free by melting or some shit. Who fucking knows, but the lyrics paint a pretty fantastic visual picture of Antarcticans doing some gnarly things. Oh, I lost track of what I was actually doing during the solo, but hot damn at around 11:35 those pounding riffs and that head-bobbing rhythm snapped me out of it.
Now I have to take some some giant bong riffs as we approach Giza…
For those who have always wondered just what Om might have sounded like had the band used a guitar, the answer is finally here. “Giza Butler” begins as if it’s an alternate version of “At Giza,” the pivotal moment for Hakius before he unfortunately retired from the world of music in 2009. Thankfully, Roeder truly channels that same energy with the drums here. If there was ever a question as to whether his role as Sleep’s new / live drummer would ever be solidified, the answer is a resounding yes. Now, what do we have here?
A song about a Butler from Giza? It sounds Egyptian enough…
Ah, we have lyrics about the SABBATH DAY. Hmmm…
“Down to the bosque on day of Iommic Pentacost.”
HAH! Okay, the song is named after Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.
Oh Lord, this song is just filled with references of all the things the band loves, isn’t it? Muad’ Doob Messiah? Really? I knew the Dopesmoker cover was really a tribute to Dune! Just as Giza Butler seems to be a tribute to all of the things Sleep has ever loved, such as Black Sabbath, which is admittedly Sleep’s greatest influence. There’s another subtle emotion conveyed in this song that whispers the togetherness of Pike and Cisneros, as if Sleep was here all along. Sure bits and pieces have splintered off to form new projects. It’s okay to get sidetracked, after all. There is much wisdom in saving drastic changes for new projects. In fact, there’s very little grey area when it comes to Sleep’s various side projects over the years, as most people gravitate strongly to either Om or High On Fire, but are less frequently enthralled by both bands. The only certainty is that if you do love them both, you will love The Sciences.
Where was I? On the subject of paths diverging and colliding, surely. Sleep has not only surprised the world with an album that is way better than it should be, it has also paid tribute to its old days, its members’ experiences in other musical projects, and hopefully days to come. If there was one thing that stuck out on the last mini-tour on which the band embarked, it was the anticipation and pure delight of the crowd that assembled to witness the awakening of something from the past.
Something about riffs and steady, rolling drum beats.
Matt Pike really does like to smoke a fuckton of weed in between songs, doesn’t he?
Al plays barefoot. Hope he doesn’t step on anything.
Volume at full blast, it’s time to feel the rhythm again. Where was I again?
Oh yeah, just following the smoke.