Sleep Dopesmoker (reissue)
By: Chris Davison
There are some albums that just become the stuff of legends. The story of Sleep is already steeped in myth and the re-telling of truths and half-truths that have been embellished and have grown larger through the passage of years. We do know that Sleep seemed to be on the cusp of super stardom back in the nineties. I can recall seeing their name mentioned in mainstream rock magazines as being “the next big thing,” and “could Sleep be the new Faith No More?” A weird comparison to make to be sure, but one that exposes the nature of the mainstream press.
The story of Dopesmoker is labyrinthine, but let's cut it down to the constituent parts. Following the release of Holy Mountain, which had placed Sleep at the very edge of becoming a huge deal, not only in the stoner world but in the wider rock world, Sleep retreated back to the recording studio. Here, not only did they smoke truly astonishing amounts of weed, (in fact, myth has it that most of their budget was spent on it), they recorded their new album – to be named Dopesmoker. When they presented it back to the recording studio – a single track monolithic jam session that lasted almost an hour in length, they were horrified. Sent packing, they were told to come back with another album – essentially a very slightly trimmed version called Jerusalem. It wouldn't be until 2003 that Dopesmoker would eventually emerge – at which point the band was already defunct, and their successors (OM and High On Fire) established.
This reissue of Dopesmoker from Southern Lord Records– complete with brand new artwork of some kind of cross-desert weed-carrying pilgrims in a pleasingly pulp 70's style sci-fi fashion – retains all of the music of the 2003 pressing, but with extra remastering duties. Therefore, if you're already into stoner rock, there's a very real chance that you will already own this piece of work. If you haven't, then prepare your ears for an often surreal, inspired trip through hypnotic riffing, hoarse bellowing and some of the best Bill Ward inspired drumming to be found on record. In fact, though most people focus in on the rolling riffs, the mesmerising tone of the fuzzed out bass and the vocals, this is a jam that is almost always centred on the drumming. I'm certainly no drummer, being a lapsed (and awful) guitarist and vocalist (!), but even I can tell that this is a brilliant performance by Chris Hakius.
What does this remaster offer? Well, to my faltering ears, it's quite hard to tell much difference between this and the former release. Yes, there does appear to be slightly more clarity, but that's quite tricky to discern in a style of music that worships the fuzz and buzz of distortion. There is, of course, the live version of “Holy Mountain” here, which is rougher than a badger's arse, but does demonstrate what the live experience of Sleep is like – powerful, rolling and hypnotic. If you don't already have this album, but profess to like doom – get it now. If you do already have it, well then honestly – save your cash.
Editor: I beg to differ with Chris. This reissue is more than worth your money, as I’ve found this remaster/ reissue to be an absolute monster with a gigantic sound. Given the amount of reissues that we see these days, the practice probably now deserves its own “best of the year” category. Dopesmoker by Sleep will be that album. Buy or die.