Sleep Maps’ Medals is an album with a very simple concept that goes after a very complicated subject. Based on the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit, in which the Vietnam Veterans Against War expressed opposition to the U.S. government and the reasons for their service, Medals compiles spoken word excerpts from the event and juxtaposes them with 28 minutes of heavy instrumental prog and post-metal material.
The first voice we hear is that of Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1965 “We Will Stand in Viet-Nam” address, posing Medals’ cornerstone question, “Why must young Americans, born into a land exultant with hope and with golden promise, toil and suffer and sometimes die in such a remote and distant place?” before delivering a rationale that ends with “We will not surrender and we will not retreat.” The last voices on the record are those of veterans making strong statements like “I got a purple heart here, and I hope I get another one fighting these motherfuckers” as they return their war accolades. Meanwhile, sludgy soundscapes surge in and out, oscillating patiently from subdued ambience to blitzkrieg double kick drum hits and guitar tremolos.
The concept is straightforward, uncompromising, and absurdly ambitious. The question, though, is whether it’s wise to think that a collection of accessible metal riffs and crescendos can say anything new or important about such a delicate issue. Would their effects be any less fitting over sound bites on, say, theology, rape, or global warming? The sound engineering is detailed and diligent, but is this the right platform for showing off craftsmanship? While Sleep Maps’ heart may be in the right place, these are questions Medals provides no satisfying answers to, leaving a mark that amounts to a loud, half-hour “see what they did?” and little else.
Essential Tracks: “The Final Weapon”