"When my all-smiling, all-visionary, all-grimming partner in sonic grime Stephen O’Malley (Khanate, Sunn0))), Burning Witch) sent me this Sleep album as a gift late last year, I immediately thought it was the most ground-breaking record in years because it took an essentially unmeditational musical form (i.e. early Black Sabbath) and sacralised it into the highest form of barbarian sonic code you could ever wish to trip out to. It monged my senses within the first five minutes, then set about my inner structures with sheer weight of adamant repetition and monotony. The CD featured one 60-minute long Sabbath Re-hash plus a nine minutes live-in-concert extra to wake you at the end in case you’d fallen asleep under the sonic assault of the main track and your home was burning down. What pragmatic motherfuckers, I thunk to myself. You could chew up some of the good hash and neck a few beers and lie in bed and sleep to it, leave your body to it, probably even shag to it though I was too busy to set up such an experiment. But it was such a forever trip that the whole room, nay the whole of my life, soon became secondary to this one seemingly eternal track. It was neither fast nor slow, operating somewhere between Black Sabbath’s own self-titled track from their first LP and the Flower Travellin’ Band’s own more ambient sludge-trudge version of the same song from their 1970 LP ANYWHERE, then gradually building into a rhythm something akin to MASTER OF REALITY’s ‘Lord of this World’ and ‘Into the Void’. However, there was herein an added bonus in the drumming of Chris Hakius, whose utter relentlessness allowed the sound to transcend Sabbath considerably and obtain a total hold on this listener’s mind. After hearing so many recent so-called Sabbath imitators whose muse really appealed to me intellectually but always ultimately failed to make me instant replay the suckers (Boris, Electric Wizard, Gonga), this Sleep album seemed to be the realest of real shit and then some… And as a Krautrocker who’d always professed to have preferred UFO-period Guru Guru’s extended Sabbalongs more than the real thing, I realised that these San Jose lunatics had taken their own proto-metal into much the same ‘LSD-March’ type territory, then continued out of that track’s city limits across the railways tracks and out into nether lands that even Mani Neumaier woulda never thunk to venture. Furthermore, the lyrics (all ten repeated lines or so) were the kind of accessible pseudo-religious genius that started genuine religions:
‘Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land…
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth…’
New lows in redundant amphibian shamanism or watt, Motherfucker! Gimme gimme gimme, and then gimme some more. When I was a kid making 1/72 scale model plane kits by Airfix and Revell, I used to paint flies with Humbrol gloss and watch them drag themselves around slower and slower until they… finally… dried up underneath the sheer weight of the glossy overalls I’d painted them into. Now, listening to DOPESMOKER, I was a fly dying of paint inhalation and loving every exoskeletally en-crisping moment. Lying comatose and aware of nothing but the thousands of glow-in-the-dark stars on my bedroom ceiling, I wondered what could have been behind such a fundamentalist statement as DOPESMOKER. Of its three creators, I visualised them (in my hash-mashed mind’s eye) inhabiting a world in which the first four Black Sabbath LPs - BLACK SABBATH, PARANOID, MASTER OF REALITY and VOLUME 4 – had become sacred testaments on which to base their entire belief system (this wasn’t really too hard to envisage – Mormonism and Rastafarianism were based on far less). But then, as I sunk deeper into Sleep’s San Jose psyche, I began to think… imagine that you first came to these four Sabs LPs not in their British Vertigo swirl guises, but in their U.S. Warner Brothers versions, with the first LP losing its gatefold and (therefore) controversial inverted cross, but (more positively) side two opening not with the original slightly incongruous Fontana 45 ‘Evil Woman, Don’t You Play Your Games with Me’ but with the far more typically doomaholic stop-start Iommi-heavy multi-parted B-side ‘Wicked World’ – an altogether more auspiciously damned beginning to side two of such an iconic rock’n’roll debut. Imagine, if you will allow me to continue this metaphor, that being a teenage American stoner and already of the opinion that, being in possession of the aforementioned 4 LPs, you have your hands on some sort of holy sonic reliquary umpteen times greater than Islam’s piece of sacred meteorite at the centre of Mecca’s Haram enclosure, you begin as time goes by to read more and more into the titles of those ‘extras’ that Warner Brothers had insisted Black Sabbath added to their tracklisting to stop the general public from thinking they wuz buying some too-short LPs. And imagine that the addition of those extra U.S.-only titles on BLACK SABBATH (‘Wasp’, ‘Bassically’), PARANOID (‘Luke’s Wall’, ‘Jack the Stripper’), MASTER OF REALITY (‘The Haunting’, ‘Step Up’, ‘Deathmask’) and VOLUME 4 (‘The Straightener’, ‘Everyday Comes and Goes’) to the already murky official Sabbath tracklisting contributed further confusion to the thorny question of exactly when songs ended and others began, so much so in fact that each already oft-changing riff-o-thon now appeared to meld seamlessly and tidally, each into the next until your teenaddled stoner cranium saw, heard and inhaled it all as a single ever-undulating ever-spiralling ever-squirming Midgardian Worm of sonic oil spill building and building layer upon relentless layer on a seashore until the whole beachscape, complete with sunbathers, coastguards and concession stands, had been lacquered under a one-metre-thick obsidian black layer of petrified chemo-gunk… I visualised Sleep in their pre-Sleep configuration, their teenage stoner minds fixating collectively on these first four Sabbath LPs to such an extent that certain repeated words in the song titles became iconic mantras to be treated (Brigit Riley-stylee) as repeatable motifs almost in the psychedelic manner of 6,000-year-old Western Atlantic passage grave art. In this mood, titles such as ‘Sweetleaf’, ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, ‘Planet Caravan’, ‘Under the Sun’, ‘Warning’, ‘Snowblind’,1 ‘Luke’s Wall’, Supernaut’, ‘A Bit of Finger’, ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, ‘The Wizard’; each becomes a useful jugglable commodity on which to hang your own variant of Geezer’s lyric, of Iommi’s heavy up-the-neck wound-string S.G. riffs and of Bill’s Bible-throwing drum fills. I heard evidence within these Sleepian grooves that a genuine cult had grown up in San Jose, a cult dedicated to the results of Black Sabbath’s controversial decision to rip off2 a song title (‘Sweetleaf’) from Clear Blue Sky, their eighteen-year-old Vertigo label-mates, and write it not as a soft homage to grass but as a riff-heavy ‘Pot as THEE Sacrament’ John Sinclair/MC5ian-type Odin-receiving-the-wisdom-of-Urd’s Well thank you thank you you-saved-my-life Shaman’s gift to the Goddess eulogy. I imagined that on hearing Ozzie’s echoplex’d coughs at the beginning of the song, and the desperation in his voice when he sung to Sweetleaf ‘I love you… you know it… my life was empty… my life was down… my life is free now’, the Cult-that-would-become-Sleep had heard it as such a rallying cry from within that it finally motivated their otherwise Total Pot Refusenik Butts enough to get up from the couch long enough to lay down some extreme sonic monotony on behalf of the Vegetation Goddess who had spoken so eloquently to them, their few close stoner mates, and Messrs. Osbourn, Butler, Iommi and Ward. But after I’d imagined all of the above, I had to stop imagining such things because this thing had actually happened and the results were amazing.
Then came the cruncher… this DOPESMOKER album was an old recording from 1995CE, and was the culmination of years of Sleep’s collective (and terminal) Sabbophilia. Yup, there was loads more great Sleep stuff AND they’d stuffed their record company (London Records) with this sucker by scoring unbelievable amounts of the green, inhaling it all then buying even vaster amounts of the Orange (amplification, that is) and recording one 52-minute track entitled ‘Jerusalem’ which they then delivered to London Records on a DAT tape contained in a porcelain skull bong wearing a U.S. military police helmet. Legal wrangling took over and miserable London Records suits wearing extremely brown trousers eventually dropped the band, who had on their hands the greatest bootleg since High Rise’s aberrant live double NOT WEARING A HARD HAT IN A HARD HAT AREA (THAT HARD). I needed to do some sonic investigation and I knew it would be one of the great joys of recent history. Indeed, it was…" - The one and only Julian Cope, Head Heritage
What can you say about a classic that hasn't already been said? So sludgy, so droney, so amazing. Mandatory for those looking to be pummeled with epic stoner riffs and guitar tones that could start an earthquake. And that bass rig, holy shit. Tasteful tribal drumming to top it all off, what more do you need? Wow.