Go To Sleep: Minneapolis, April 19th, First Avenue
Sleep were last in Minneapolis February 7th, 1994 supporting pioneering rock cosmonauts Hawkwind. This Wednesday, April 19th, they’ll be headlining the same venue, First Avenue, twenty-three years later. What a time to be alive.
Sleep was born by bassist Al Cisneros, guitarists Matt Pike and Justin Marler, and drummer Chris Haikus in San Jose, California in 1990. After the release of their first album, Volume One (Tupelo Recording Company, 1991), Sleep were reduced to a power trio, losing Marler to a monastery on a deserted island in Alaska where he would study as a monk for the next seven years. The band’s sound was effected, but not for the worst. Instead of pulling back, Sleep went big. And I mean big.
Their second album, Holy Mountain (Earache Records, 1992) became gospel on its first spin amongst anyone interested in heavy music and/or marijuana. Sleep had built their sound from the darker trenches of hell, the gene-pool of all heavy music; but their eyes and minds were set on the stars. Songs like “Dragonaut” and “From Beyond” didn’t quite shake the pillars of the house that Black Sabbath built so much as they blasted it into space. Once this success made its way across the Atlantic, London Records (of Rolling Stones and ZZ Top fame) were knocking on Sleep’s door with a blank check and an empty recording studio. They were privy to the band’s next move and wished to facilitate what would become the band’s third and final album.
Originally conceived as “Dopesmoker”, one long, vast and roaming adventure through the riff-filled lands of Sleep’s imagination, Jerusalem (Rise Above/The Music Cartel, 1999) was chopped into bits, laid in some kind of order and sent to the masses before Cisneros, Pike or Haikus had much of a say at mix or length. “Dopesmoker” would become a legend in the underground metal scene, a legend Sleep would be forced to obscure themselves within before disappearing completely into the smoke by 1997. Tee Pee Records valiantly produced a single LP Dopesmoker in 2003 from the original 63 minute product, evidence, for once, that the legends were true. But like a blurry photo of Sasquatch, there was still more to be desired.
In 2009, however, there was a quake from the deeper regions of old space. The old gods had found their way back to our world, and they brought a sacrament along with them. Facilitated by the concordant label Southern Lord Records, the superlative Dopesmoker (2013) was finally unleashed upon the world, stomping and yawning in all of its glory: three sides of thick, endless riff.
The sound of Sleep in the 21st century is not the sound of 1992, or 1994, or even 1998, when they decided to hang up the bong and go their separate ways, forging onwards and leaving behind their stoner caravan for cleaner pastures. Sleep has grown, changed (for one, their new drummer is Neurosis’ drummer), and, perhaps, evolved. What we saw and experienced throughout Sleep’s initial tenure as a performing act was mighty, and it was loud…but it was just the Gospel.
Revelations is ready to take center stage. The end of all things is coming, and Sleep is ready to play in Cthulhu…or whomever decides to lay waste to the universe. Their latest gift to the world, “The Clarity”, is approximately ten minutes of literal cannabis worship. And it is fucking awesome. Like, it is so good…
…I forgot what I was talking about…
Right – “The Clarity”…
Did you listen to it? If not, take your time…
Alright, now that that’s over, I’d like to tell you what I think about it.
Sleep in the 21st century is just what the doctor ordered. You weren’t sick, don’t worry. You just didn’t have enough Sleep in your life. Sometimes our problems are suffered and solved without our knowing; and we’re just a little bit better for it, aren’t we? Any who – this song is fucking awesome. Sleep in the 21st century is a justifiably jubilant incident. As part of Adult Swim’s singles project, this song was an incident. For the month of July 2014, “The Clarity” was the gracious spurt from the skull, and we were thankful to get it.
Sleep has learned confidence, dynamics, and structure from High on Fire and Om, and their playing sits comfortably in the seasoned pockets laid by Jason Roeder, taking over the throne Chris Haikus left alone upon Sleep’s hiatus. Roeder’s steady foot keeps “The Clarity” swelling and succumbing with intuition and (ironically) lucidity. He is the bellow in Sleep’s mantra, and his steady hands stir the pot well. He’s a logical, and I hope emotional, choice for the group to proceed into the 21st century as a productive working band. Neurosis come from the same muck Sleep hauled themselves out of in the late 80s, metal scenes dictated by volume and tenacity, but not necessarily speed.
Not speed at all. Nope.
You can’t feel the music if it whips past your head like a bullet. Sleep, Neurosis, the Melvins, Cathedral, Eyehategod, and countless other musical artists were turning up the volume and turning down the pace of metal, following the jalopies of past masters such as the Obsessed, Black Sabbath, St. Vitus, and Trouble. When the Obsessed played, they shook audiences’ minds as well as their sternums. Black Sabbath were the universally acclaimed lords of doom metal, their most famous tracks never crawling past a drip of Elk’s Tongue sliding down a wall.
So, “The Clarity” is a song about enjoying cannabis. And it sounds like it.
The guitars are loud, but not too loud. There’s too much smoke in the speakers; but they still sound pretty good. The fuzzed bass steadily hums along instead of shouting in mutual triumph. Al Cisneros’s mellow knows no bounds, and Sleep is better off for it. And while Matt Pike’s old band shirts might not fit him these days, that heavy bottom on his Les Paul sure does. The use of tone switch is just about wizardly at around the four minute mark, but just wait until it evolves later in the main riff…but you knew that already, didn’t you?
Just like you also understand that Matt Pike lays down the best solo he will ever play. Mountains are fell, comets are thrown out of and then back into orbit; and to end to it all, a star is born in a blaze of glory. Matt Pike has fun, and that’s very easy to recognize – fun.
This is good mood-music for the purveyors of doom & gloom. Sleep is timeless, in a way. Like Universal Studio’s horror films of the 1930s and 40s, the musicscapes of Sleep exists amongst cobblestones occupied by both cars and horses, thick creeping mists and the glistening tangles of trees bathed in moonlight. Sometimes in color, sometimes in black & white, always ready to fright or thrill.
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.