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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Stoner Opus Returns


Sleep - Dopesmoker reissue
2012 Southern Lord
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You know the legend of Sleep's Dopesmoker, namely that it is an hour-long haze ride through distorted ostinato.  You're also probably aware Dopesmoker was a four year process, which may stun neophytes and the inhibited, given the singular, perpetual crunk of the album.  It takes a special ear and even more special patience to hang with this album, but if you've been through Boris' Absolutego and Green Carnation's Light of Day, Day of Darkness, you're acclimated to the visionary concept of a sixty-minute contemporary track.  Dopesmoker (and its twin sister Jerusalem), by attrition, is beyond visionary.

Perhaps you're familiar with the fate of Dopesmoker, namely that it was shelved by Sleep's one-time label, London Records after the imprint sunk a fair chunk into it then cried foul when Al Cisneros, Matt Pike and Chris Hakius delivered the most inaccessible album any band could.  Satanic majesties returned to London Records that year.  For certain, Dopesmoker was wrung out of more than one cannibis leaf during the nineties, even if to this writer's ears, it could've been recorded on a stray fishing boat in the Mekong Delta post-Vietnam. 

Dopesmoker is (by modern lexicon) a classifiable doom and stoner epic, but when Matt Pike is allowed to step out of the primary laggard grind of the composition, his soloing is exquisite, far-flung and translucent.  His psychedelic solos are the reward for letting the entire trio hammer down on your ears for so long and be warned, you will experience ringing on the first go-round with this album.  The aquatic bridge (finally appearing around the 45-minute mark) is acidy yet beauteous.  Though it may enchance the overall listening session of Dopesmoker if you're carrying a buzz, the precision of Pike's ghostly strumming, Cisneros' grumbling bass lines and Hakius' restrained rat-a-tats are better savored sober.  Dragged snarling out of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Saint Vitus' Born Too Late, Sleep found their muse in doom chords and doobies on Dopesmoker.  Yet it takes skillful hands to command a listener's attention with something this massive in scale and Sleep may have been toked up through the entire jaunt, but it's evident pot was inherent to the creative process.  They used it as a construct versus an embellishment.  Indeed, Dopesmoker might not have been the same album without marijuana.

In 1996 when Dopesmoker was first embarked and recorded, metal was still underground in the United States, and stoner music was a cult phenomenon relegated to Kyuss, Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu, Weedeater and Bongzilla.  This was ambitious yet private music Pike and company bravely undertook, particularly when you factor the original backlash handed to Dopesmoker by London.  Just rewards, the album soon took a life of its own thereafter through the metal underground. 

We can thank Josh Homme and Clutch for exposing this low-tuned vibe to a larger audience, and now we can thank Southern Lord for bringing Dopesmoker back to life this year with new artwork and a bonus live track of "Holy Mountain."  Best of all, this reissue of Dopesmoker makes use of audile cleaning technologies to produce the most definitive (by the band's and label's analysis) tone of the album yet heard.  By all means, the crispness of Dopesmoker's audio wash magnifies the hapless vibratum and the swirling inertia Sleep intended to project through analog.  The album remains dirty in execution but far more homogenized in conveyance.  It's perhaps even heavier now than ever before.

I need no further commentary at this point.

3 comments:

Metal Mark said...

Weedeater were not around in 1996. Other than that pretty good review. This album was way ahead of it's time, but no surprise they met with resistance at the time. It's been hugely influential on stoner rock/doom metal over the last dozen or so years since the scene has exploded.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Okay, thanks for the flag. My bust. For sure Dopesmoker/Jerusalem has as much to do with the stoner scene's prolific activity as Sabbath.

jack said...

Perhaps you're familiar with the fate of Dopesmoker, namely that it was shelved by Sleep's one-time label..
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