Sleep - "Dopesmoker" CD Review (Southern Lord) ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sleep - "Dopesmoker" CD Review (Southern Lord)

Sleep - 'Dopesmoker' CD Review (Southern Lord)You have to “love” the major labels – in the frenzy to sign the next Nirvana, many bands were signed to labels that had no idea what the band was about or how to market the band to a mass-market audience. The sad thing is that many solid ‘underground’ bands wouldn’t have appealed to a mass-market (think Pearl Jam) audience in the first place. Recently reflecting on the band’s flirtation with Atlantic Records, J. Robbins from Jawbox said “As far as my experience goes and understanding the major label music business, it's a machine for creating massive pop culture phenomena. So, if you want to be Prince or Madonna, if you want to be the biggest f*cking thing in creation and be a household word...if you want to be Lady Gaga, that is absolutely the world to step into."

The Meat Puppets had become more-or-less socially acceptable by the time they signed to London Records but I can’t imagine who signed the Butthole Surfers to Capital or Sleep to London Records. The Butthole Surfers got onto “modern rock” radio with “Pepper” but there was no way that Sleep was ever going to get onto the radio or MTV with an hour-long epic to “drop[ping] out of life with a bong in hand” (“Dopesmoker”).

The new Southern Lord release of Dopesmoker contains the epic-length title track and a live version of “Holy Mountain” that was recorded in 1994 at the I-Beam in San Francisco. Dopesmoker has been out of print for years so it is almost irrelevant to compare this new version to the previous 2003 pressing (Tee Pee Records) but…this new version was mastered from the original studio tapes by From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright and has more sonic depth than the previous issue (or any of quasi-legit/bootleg issues).

Sleep had toured for Holy Mountain (1993) with Cathedral and Hawkwind and Dopesmoker stretches the sound of Holy Mountain to incorporate best of these two bands. The title track, “Dopesmoker”, is old-school sludgy doom metal in the spirit of Black Sabbath (and Cathedral) with epic, lumbering guitar riffs that brings out the listeners’ visceral emotions as Sleep takes the listener further and further into their stoner-rock aural landscape. To steal a phrase from a past Southern Lord festival, Dopesmoker emphasizes the power of the riff – the guitar riffs are almost organic as they grind and crash, one after another – with no sign of stopping, while Al Cisneros’ vocals are delivered in an almost cathartic chant. The 11 minute live take of “Holy Mountain” has more of a ‘traditional’ song structure than “Dopesmoker” but this extended live version shows how the band was rapidly moving further into the sludgy Sabbath ‘void’. This live recording sounds like it was taped from the audience but it is a great representation of Sleep in all their primitive glory.

Sleep 2012 U.S. Tour Dates:
6/02/2012 The Ritz – Tampa, FL
6/03/2012 Neumos – Seattle, WA
6/04/2012 Neumos – Seattle, WA
6/05/2012 Fox Theater – Oakland, CA