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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.