Say what you will about artistic integrity and sticking to your guns, but it’s no wonder that London Records pitched a righteous fit when the stoner metal legends, Sleep, delivered what would end up being their last record to the major label. The album featured a single, 63-minute song titled “Dopesmoker”, an epic tribute to the virtues of, yes, smoking dope. London refused to release the album in its pitched form, so the band decided to split up rather than compromise their vision: Matt Pike went on to form High on Fire, Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius became Om, and Sleep’s final album went for years without an official release.
Only heard in a number of editions that never met the band’s approval, Southern Lord and producer Brad Boatright have teamed up with Sleep to finally realize their original vision for Dopesmoker. The low end has been opened up, making it sound thicker and louder than ever before. As for the record itself, it’s one near-endless riff made to feel even longer with a few tokes of its namesake herb.
“Drop out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land,” Cisneros howls in the first lyrics on their final album. Coming in roughly eight minutes into their opus, those words could be read as the band’s advice for getting the most out of your listening experience. Dopesmoker is archetypal stoner metal, but cranked up and stretched out to almost comic proportions. Chugging chords, Cisneros primal yowls, a rhythm backing that’s relentless, and druggy lyrics are all drawn out across more than an hour; occasionally a piercing fuzz solo will rise out of the smoke, but there’s little else to break up the intoxicating (and intoxicated) groove that Sleep lead you down.
It’s not for everybody, certainly; all but the biggest potheads/metalheads may burn out after so much grinding. It’s no showcase for songwriting, either, but it makes up for that with heady atmosphere. Come in expecting a mystical journey and take it for what it is—an hour-long, drug-infused jam—and you’ll be pulled right in.
Essential Songs: “Dopesmoker” (what else?)