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Compared to later Sleep albums I've heard, "Holy Mountain" initially comes across as the most commercially accessible which came as a surprise to me as I'd expected something inspired in equal parts by Black Sabbath and the Alejandro Jodorowsky movie of the same name as the album. Never mind - this is a good recording that balances enough doom metal and a poppy song-writing direction to appeal to an established fanbase and first-time listeners. The sound is not too clean neither too fuzzy or distorted, the texture of most songs is rough and crunchy, and lyrics draw inspiration from science fiction and fantasy, dream surrealism and hints of post-apocalypse Earth; if there be a Goldilocks zone in most exoplanetary solar systems where conditions are just right for planets in that zone to nurture life, then "Holy Mountain" might well lie in the Goldilocks zone between underground doom metal and mainstream heavy metal / hard rock.
"Dragonaut" is a jaunty introduction to the album proper with a deep fuzzy bass sound, distorted guitars and escapist visions of a giant reptile flying away into the wild blue yonder of the imagination. Around the halfway mark, the musicians finds their groove and for a short while are lost in their trance world of smart driving riffs. "The Druid" has a more hardcore punk influence which seems a bit strange for its subject matter but once the lyrics are out of the way the song is solid with a hard-hitting rhythm. "Evil Gypsy / Solomon's Theme" plunges quite deeply in an experimental / improvisational direction as the song takes unexpected detours into bursts of spontaneous instrumental jamming, lead guitar running riot, the drummer playing his heart out on his tom-toms and everyone just going for broke in the space of seven minutes.
After a short bluegrass melody, it's back to serious doom in "Aquarian" with a chuggy intro going into a slow-paced rhythm and bleached-out vocals. The lyrics give some indication of the theme of bird flight that Sleep bassist Al Cisneros would pursue with future band Om. Indeed, in the title track booming bass drones dominate the song and the vocals come close to the chanting style Cisneros would adopt for Om. Another track that features a strong crushing bass-dominated rhythm is "From Beyond" which by this point in the album is far gone in alternative sludge doom metal territory with a changeable structure that includes plenty of instrumental soloing and jamming, monotone robotic vocals in parts and a trance-like mood.
The album moves from a traditional song-based approach with hard choppy and crunching rhythms and a mix of melodic traditional doom metal and hardcore to a more moody sludge doom metal style with plenty of instrumental jamming, an intense meditative ambience at times, vocal chants and song structures that change a great deal and are unpredictable. This has the effect of drawing listeners further into the science fantasy world the lyrics conjure up. By the end of the album, listeners are probably more than ready to experience the strange surreal world of the Jodorowsky film "Holy Mountain". Well, first impressions can be very deceptive. If ever people want a crash course in doom metal that takes them from beginner level to far into the cosmos running the gamut from stoner rock to sludge and from songs to deep trance and almost ritualistic instrumental music in the space of less than an hour, Sleep's "Holy Mountain" is ideal training.
Sleep’s Holy Mountain “pushes itself out into space” from the warm primordial ooze of the fathomless imagination of this hasheeshian entity made manifest through distortion and the undying rhythm of reality. Combine this sound with a fearless and uninhibited musical ethos and the sheer will of these three musicians to ride their riffs deep into the expanses of a shared and exclusive internal cosmos, and what you get is pure artistic intention, preserved via analog for our listening pleasure.
“Dragonaut” blasts us off into this red-eyed universe far away from the mundane and banal earth of trivialities and meaningless routine shite. If you have ever seen the movie Gummo, “Dragonaut” sets the musical score as the two quasi-humanoid beings on bicycles propel themselves into the void that is that movie. Needless to say, this is one of the best and weirdest movies ever conceived, and splicing it with the otherworldliness of Sleep, even if it is just for that one MASSIVE riff, is some of the stoniest entertainment available to mankind. All of these songs are lyrically fantastic, traversing mythic realms of infinity and outer space until you are incinerated “Inside the Sun.” The guitar of Matt Pike has low end crunch to be fucking reckoned with, and Sleep’s pentatonic and heaving blues riffology tends to have a hypnotic effect upon the unsuspecting listener. The rhythm section of Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius is interwoven seamlessly as an eternal knot, breathing and undulating with the same might of the great old ones.
All of these songs are pretty much equally good, as they were all seemingly divinatory of the same cosmic channel of combined inspiration and determination. “Some Grass” is just a fun diddly separating the two titans that are “Evil Gypsy/Solomon’s Theme” and “Aquarian,” the latter finding you “trapped in a world under leagues of ocean.” There is truly no better lyric that could describe the weight of the riffage found in this bludgeoning, bong-ripping beast. I personally don’t listen to this album without smoking. This band and its music are the embodiment of the ancient sacrament and its holy ritual of divination of the imagination. Yes, the influences are obvious, but sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. And Sleep says it with the guttural confidence of axe-wielding brutes, stoned and free to rule the riff-filled land.
“Look unto the rays of the new stoner sun rising” and issue in the rise of the Holy Mountain. This song is heavy as the balls of the gods, and the way they transition from the creeping desolation of the clean guitar interlude to the tidal wave of devastation that this title track becomes is simply masterful. “Inside the Sun” has some of the only fast riffing on this album, but fear not, my fellow weedians, inside is a land of anachronistic molten sludge that will flatten any memory of earth. Indeed, it’s the slow and depressive dirges here that make Holy Mountain the infernal temple of the stoner. That said, being stoned does not always mean being happy. Sometimes, weed will awaken a hate deep within, a hate so undeniable and pure that it will not be restrained. So you pick up a guitar and you play those fucking blues, man. Bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard use weed to amplify their innermost feelings of animosity or alienation in the form of bone-crushing heavy metal, regardless of how you wanna categorize it.
“From Beyond” and the instrumental “Nain’s Baptism” are monstrous downers that end this album in the heaviest possible fashion. Both of these skull splitters make clear the aforementioned desire to destroy, as they plod forth with all the heaviness of the elders. So fill your pipe and light up, as demonstrated on the back cover of this Holy Mountain, and ride the shockwaves that rattle the earth below with these hymns of doom.
With "Sleep's Holy Mountain", Sleep are not just stylistically inspired by Black Sabbath, but oftentimes lift bits of Sabbath's songs and insert them into something new. It sounds as if Mike Pike grew up listening to and playing Sabbath songs, got stoned one day, jammed with his band, and this was the result. Bits of Sabbath riffs get mixed in with bursts of creativity. Frequently throughout the album I'll hear a bit of a Sabbath song, causing my mind to instantly expect the rest of that song, but instead something different happens. It can actually get pretty annoying.
That said, the album is somewhat enjoyable. The band clearly knows how to play together and construct a song. Pike also comes through with some quality solos that are all his own. When the Sabbath rip-offs aren't present sections of this album, they do in fact sound like something an early Sabbath could have written that was never recorded.
I think part of the reason people enjoy "Sleep's Holy Mountain" (besides pot) is for the amateur appeal. With the rough production and sometimes sloppy/unoriginal playing, it strikes the listener as something one of their own friend's bands could have recorded. If said friend had in fact recorded it, the listener would be thoroughly impressed. This kind of appeal can help the listener identify more closely with the musicians and is often looked for in metal. For me, however, that doesn't elevate the album anywhere above mediocre.
Tony Iommi once famously said that Sleep, out of all stoner doom bands out there, most "embodied the spirit of early Sabbath," and from the opening head-nodding notes of 'Dragonaut' through to the slowly capitulating doom of closer 'Nain's Baptism,' that spirit echoes on down the Holy Mountain, one of the best records to come out of the burgeoning 70's revival scene two decades ago.
Unlike Kyuss, Monster Magnet, and Cathedral, Sleep holds back nothing. There are no concessions whatsoever on this record. The riffs are heavy, deep, and catchy, often loose, sometimes sloppy. The lyrics are uninhibited stoner fantasy. The drums bash with hypnotic monotony. The bass wobbles all over. When they hit a groove, a pocket, like they do at the three-minute mark of 'Dragonaut,' they go full-force, swinging like no one has since almighty Sabbath themselves. Weed becomes essential, it adorns all aspects of the record, from the cover art and insert, to the lyrics, to the music itself. Al Cisneros once telling Dig of Earache to smoke first before listening to their demos.
And while Sabbath holds sway, there is some Blue Cheer, some Thin Lizzy, lots of Trouble and Saint Vitus, and whereas it is tempting to think of Sleep as unabashed homage (they were teenagers at the time after all), there is something more to them than mere photocopy and pastiche. What makes Sleep timeless, so that their music has endured beyond themselves or even OM and High On Fire really, is that they took a series of easy 70's templates and in their enthusiasm for them, generated something uniquely their own. No other stoner record sounds like this, while it is close to Sabbath, it sounds like Sleep, it is their own.
'Dragonaut' is perhaps the most accessible tune here, adhering to more conventional song structures and containing several dope head-nodding riffs that kaleidoscope into one of the most memorable metal songs in history. 'The Druid' is stoner menace, the song you feel a little tweaked out listening to as Al Cisnero's warped vocals bark out at you about dark magic and evil wizards. His bass takes the fore too, harnessing and creating a mighty tension before the riffs kick back in. 'Holy Mountain' is the heaviest song on here, slow and impactful, the sound of a funereal caravan trudging across the impenetrable desert scorching beneath a thousand astral suns. Matt Pike's riffing is so hypnotically perfect, you could lose yourself in it, particularly during the seemingly endless interlude, a moment that just builds and builds before drowning you in cascading waves of heaviness. This song, more than any other, escapes the clutches of Sabbath to sound entirely of its own.
Many thanks here are due to the production, which is unabashedly heavy yet not suffocatingly so. Whereas many stoner doom bands try to outdo one another in the heaviness department, Sleep steps back and lets their songs breathe. There is a vital separation between the instruments instead of the usual wall of sound production. You can hear every note of Matt Pike's sludgy riffs and ringing solos but also catch Al Cisnero's bass underscoring all, moving in deft counterpoint and harmony. Chris Hakius's drums are expertly recorded, his signature hypnotic ride cymbal up front carrying the rhythm while the rest of his kit lays back, filling out the sound. This was one of the rare cases where Earache pretty much released an album as is, allowing Billy Anderson's demo production to essentially become the album master. That's a testament to both the band's vision and his excellent skills as a producer.
In summation, if Tolkien-ish lyrics sung over druggie riffs emanating through walls of Orange amplification is for you, you've probably already taken the climb up Holy Mountain and worshiped with Sleep at the shrine of Sabbath. If not, it's a journey worth taking. More essential even than ascending the Dopethrone of Electric Wizard or descending deep into the bowels of Sky Valley with Kyuss.
While other albums are cited as much more influential to the genre of stoner metal, it seems that “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” influenced just about every pot smoking stoner metal band that came after it.
It must be said that any fan of doom or stoner would enjoy this, but without a doubt anyone who enjoyed Black Sabbath’s doom metal days, will absolutely love this. If almost to show how much Sabbath influence there is on this album, the opening track “Dragonaut”, ends in a bass solo not all that far off from the one on “N.I.B.”. And if that wasn’t enough, the second track “Druid” sounds much like “Electric Funeral”. And with this clear love of Black Sabbath established, the listener now knows what they are in store for.
But Sleep isn’t merely a 2nd rate Black Sabbath style band. This whole album is riff packed, easily flowing giant. “Holy Mountain” can be listened from end to end, not because all the songs are good, but because this flows so easy from song to song. In fact the only time you know you are done with a song is at the end, when there is nothing else to follow it.
There is however the production of the album. Don’t take it the wrong way, it’s good, but it’s definitely an acquired taste. The instruments are all clearly in the mix, and that’s not the problem, or more accurately, the minor annoyance. The mic seems to be set up far from the actually playing, giving a definite spacey vibe. Another thing that be an acquired taste is Matt Pike’s vocals, which are highly synthesized and have almost are sound unnatural.
Overall, “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” is by far Sleeps greatest, and most accessible album, then again almost anything is accessible compared to a single 52 minutes song/album. So for any stoner metal fan, or doom metal fan, or even someone who just happens to really really like Black Sabbath, this album is absolutely recommended.
Soooooo I was shopping at FYE and had Sleep in mind while browsing their selection of metal. Hiding behind a bunch of bullshit was Sleep's Holy Mountain. I was hoping to pick up Dopesmoker since I heard so much about it but they didn't have it so I settled on this. I'll admit that I was a little hesitant getting this because I had no idea what to expect but I discovered how awesome this album really is.
Simply put, this album is an essential slab of doom. All songs have their unique characteristics that make them stand out in their own way. I absolutely love the riffs that Matt Pike has created, very memorable and awesome. Al knows how to deliver the damn best vocals too. As a whole this album starts off with the best songs first. Every song upto
and including "Aquarian" could easily be considered worthy of it's own single release, with the exception of "Some Grass" which is a short instrumental. "Dragonaut" is a good choice for the opening track because it starts off easy and gradually builds up into a bluesy, mid-paced song preparing you for the rest that's to follow. For me this CD can be divided up into 2 sections, the 1st ending and the second one beginning with track 6, "Holy Mountain". This is kind of strange because on the back there's also a gap between "Aquarian" and "Holy Mountain". hmm. The reason I say this is because the first half of this album is very different than the second half. The first half being more straight forward and delivering the goods without delay. The second half is slower and the songs are longer. Take for example "Holy Mountain" and "From Beyond", they have a combined length of 19 minutes. But don't be imtimidated by their length. Both songs are repetitive but that doesn't take away from their value. In fact I like that these 2 tracks are longer because there's more to enjoy that way. This album ends with the other instrumental, "Rain's Baptism". Just like "Dragonaut" started the album gradually, this song prepares you for the silence that comes when any CD is done playing. A good choice for the closing track because it is very mellow and soothing.
Time to discuss the non-musical aspects of this album; production and cover art. The production certainly sounds raw and primitive but this fits the music perfectly giving off an oldschool vibe that gives the impression that this was recorded back in the 70's. I really like the cover art on here, it's something that you can look at for a while without getting bored. You can find everything on there from angels and demons to planets, the sun, magic mushrooms, and, of coure, the serrated leaves of the holy cannabis plant. This is the only album I've heard by Sleep but I can tell you that I've discovered a really amazing band. I can also tell you that you'll love this album.