Sleep, Dopesmoker Album Review

Sleep’s final release, Dopesmoker, is arguably the defining moment for stoner metal. The album is comprised of one song, over 60-plus minutes long, with cannabis-inflected themes; it doesn’t get any headier.

The original release of the album was wrangled with challenges, from a four-year writing process to record label disapproval which contributed to the demise of the band. The sprawling title track was eventually released in an abbreviated form on 1999’s Jerusalem, and finally in its full form on 2003’s Dopesmoker. Now, it has been remastered by From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright and adorned with new artwork by longtime Sleep artist Arik Roper, and is being reissued, thanks to Southern Lord Records.

The years have done little to affect that impact of this massive opus, and the trio – Matt Pike (guitar), Al Cisneros bass, vocals), and Chris Hakius (drums) – create a grinding rhythm that sounds as relevant today as when the album was released. That’s not to say Dopesmoker is an easy listen; it is heavily nuanced and fueled by repetition that is hypnotic to an extreme. But therein is the beauty of such an experimental undertaking, the subtle details shaking brilliantly from  the heavy-hanging haze. It is a mental roller coaster; a mind-blowing ride that leaves little room to breathe.

The reissue is capped by a version of “Holy Mountain” recorded live during a 1994 performance at the I-Beam in San Francisco, but this is really the icing on top. The heart of the album is the title track, and this is the way Dopesmoker was meant to be seen, heard and felt.

Dopesmoker is out now on Southern Lord Records.

Four stars