Sleep – Dopesmoker
Label: Southern Lord
Here it is, folks – the stoners’ most advanced and fleshed-out treatise on… well, everything. It’s the marijuana-smoker’s version of the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, Mahabharata, Tao Te Ching, and why don’t we throw in the Kama Sutra for good measure. Hell, its origins are even shrouded in just as much legend and mystery as any of the texts I mentioned. It sounds like absolutely nothing else on this plane of existence, and it has at last been delivered to us in its full, pure, unadulterated glory as originally envisioned by the band, courtesy of several reunion tours, Greg Anderson of Southern Lord, and engineer Brad Boatright.
This is Dopesmoker by Sleep. It is one song clocking in at 63 minutes and 34 seconds in length. It is not a twisting, turning prog-rock epic, nor is it a droning, rhythm-less noise composition. After all, we’re talking about the guys who wrote Holy Mountain, which remains to this day probably the grooviest metal album ever written. Now, if you were oblivious to the existence of this record prior to these two prior paragraphs, there are two things I must say to you:
1.) By god, what could you have possibly been spending the last [insert age here] years doing?! You’ve pissed way a solid portion of your life and I pity you, I truly do.
2.) Get the fuck out of that chair! Seriously, go run down to a record store, buy this album, and listen to it at full blast on a good stereo. If you feel so inclined, smoke a bowl or two, I really don’t care. Just listen, for god’s sake.
If you’re still reading this, that means you’re already familiar with Dopesmoker and don’t need me to go over the ropes (that is, unless you’re stubborn and still haven’t bought the album; go get it already!). You’re probably looking for some details on how this remaster sounds and if it’s worth your $10 down at the store. The short way to answer all of this is: yes, absolutely yes, it is worth it – every penny. Long answer? Well, here goes.
Dopesmoker has always been one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s one of those rare instances where you can actually feel through the speakers that everyone who contributed to its creation was on precisely the same wavelength. These three brave men set out to create something truly special, and what they ended up with is just otherworldly. However, there has always been something odd and unsettling about the previous issues that I couldn’t really put my finger on. Now, with this revived edition, I feel almost like I’ve finally seen the light and had all of the questions in my life answered.
I still can’t really say exactly what the issue was with the 2003 edition of the album – which is perfect in its own right – but I can tell you that Boatright’s remaster is a step up and as flawless as we’ll probably ever hear this monster. There aren’t any major tweaks to be heard here – after all, it’s still Dopesmoker at the end of the day and we’re still listening to the same tracks put out by the same three guys. It’s the little things that make the difference, though. The slightest amount of reverb has been thrown onto Al’s voice, making it all the more powerful and evocative, almost as if he’s shouting the words in the desert itself, with you standing a mile away. Matt’s solos are also now clearer than ever, but in the best possible way. It doesn’t sound squeaky clean or polished, but more like what you might get after throwing one of these guys’ oft-used bongs into the dishwasher: it’s cleaner, but there’s still plenty there that will never come out.
The low-end sound here is really incredible, too. Al’s bass punches you in the gut every time it makes an entrance, as if to say “fuck you” to London Records and all of the people who worked to destroy this album. Matt’s guitar even sounds bass-esque at times (which I suppose it always has). He and Al’s lines bend in and out of harmony, matching and morphing together for one second and diverging completely another, and the production really emphasizes this. At one time, you might not be able to tell the difference between the two at all, but this only makes things sound more fluid and alive.
Now, the one band member I haven’t mentioned yet is drummer Chris Hakius, who makes up the core of this trio. I might be mistaken, but it sounds to me like he’s been placed slightly higher in the mix, which was a good move. What he managed to do on this album is unthinkable and unbelievable. For 63 minutes-straight, he keeps the beat absolutely perfectly, through all of the subtle time signature changes and other minute tidbits. His drumming is more intricate and more emotional than any quick-pounding, prog-rocking Neil Peart wannabe could ever dream. The man is a genius, and it’s really a shame that he’s done with music and hasn’t had anything to do with Sleep since this recording, save for one performance in 2009 at ATP. Maybe one day he’ll return—who knows? His spirit will forever live on in its purest form with this album, and to a lesser extent in his further work with Al in Om (I’ve always felt that Conference of the Birds is a sonic sequel of sorts to this album).
The bonus track on this new edition is a live version of the title track from Holy Mountain, played several BPM slower than the original, enough so to clock in at a full 3 minutes longer. It’s nothing dazzling to listen to – the recording quality is an indicator that this wasn’t made with the intention of release – but it is cool to hear how they did the song live way back in the day. Clearly, however, it is not the main attraction on this reissue.
It’s a pleasure to say that we’ve finally got the definitive version of this album out for the world to hear. If the Tee Pee release made you happy, this one will bring new meaning to your life. So, in the words of the band from the original gatefold, “get high, crank it up, and listen with open ears and mind.”
“Desert legion smoke-covenant is complete.”
Can’t really give track picks for this, and it would be sacrilege to break it up into parts, so just listen to the whole thing.
02. Holy Mountain (live 1994)