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So after listening to Electric Wizard and finding their name not really suiting to their style of music (let's face it, it implies that there'll be keyboard solos and that kind of shit all over the place), something drew me to Sleep. I don't know what, and I kind of got the feeling that I'd be deeply disappointed, but I tried anyway. Maybe it was to confirm that I couldn't get into stoner metal, but I just kind of felt the need to listen to them.
The opener, 'Stillborn' is fairly slow and mostly consists of the same few chords over and over again. However, it was still far more creative than what Electric Wizard had offered me, so that could be counted as a good start. The vocals are shouted, but they seem quite quiet at the same time. Not too big a problem though as on this track they are hardly present at all. The drums just kind of plod along at a pace to match the music, but that's okay. The music just isn't as interesting as I'd like it to be, but it's not too bad. I can at least appreciate why people would like this band. What I don't like is how long the track is, and at the pace that it goes at the song feels like it never ends.
'The Suffering' is even slower than the last track for the most part (there is one slightly faster part), the vocals more present this time around. To be honest they bring the value of the song down quite a lot, they aren't anything great (far from it). Maybe vocals in stoner metal are just different, but the two bands I've heard are both contrasting with each other. Once again the length is a problem, and the song really gets quite boring after a while.
The title of 'Nebuchadnezzar's Dream' caught my attention (well played, Sleep), and indeed it does sound a little different. It is a step up in terms of speed, but really still feels like they're playing while covered in tar. The same hooks that are played over and over again are pretty dull, the vocals the same shouted tone that they have been the whole way through the album. This song at least lasts less than five minutes, but it still feels longer than a fast paced song that lasts six minutes. There are a few heavier and faster chugs here and there, but for the most part it's the same monotonous few chords over and over.
The final track I feel the need to review is 'Catatonic', which is nearly (although still not quite) at a happy medium in terms of pace. The sheer heaviness of the guitars is far greater on this track than elsewhere, but once again I'd prefer it were heavier. The vocals are once again pretty crap, the drums the same kind of background noise that they have been the whole way through. But hey, the bass is audible quite clearly in some parts of this song - yeah, that's not really any kind of bonus. Once again the song lasts too long, but you've probably realised that's a problem on all the tracks by now.
Something that seems to affect every song that I haven't already touched on is that the band seemingly love to take random breaks and take out all heavy aspects of the song (which was the only thing they kind of had going for them). Why? If that's all you've got, why get rid of it?
Basically, I owe an apology to Electric Wizard for thinking that they might just be a shit stoner/doom band and that others might be better. No, it's the whole genre that I can't get into. Yeah, this experiment proves that stoner metal is something that I will be taking a wide berth from in future and if you're a fan of melodeath that's somehow ended up in this part of the archives, I urge you to listen to me. Please, I'm begging you, just go back to that side of metal. Don't tell me I've not just listened to this for no reason, at least let me warn you that you won't like it.
Sleep's first album "Volume 1" is so different from the guys' later work that they probably should have given themselves a different name at the time. Just about the only the things "Volume 1" has in common with later Sleep work is the slow, dirge-like pace and long drawn-out guitar chords and riffs ... but bazillions of other sludgey doom metal bands have those elements in common too. The Sabbath influence would be more obvious a year later with "Volume 2" and the stoner themes would come with their "Holy Mountain" album. Still, "Volume 1" is an interesting work in that it combines a hardcore punk attitude with doom metal elements and demonstrates that the two genres go well together; along with the Melvins and Greenmachine among others, Sleep might be considered early pioneers in this fusion.
Actually there is a Sabbath influence in one early track, "The Suffering", a painfully slow song that rails against Western capitalism, the pursuit of greed and profit, and its effects on people. The vocals are usually shouty as they are on most songs here and sound as if everyone in the band sings together: the voices actually remind me of early Godflesh, who had a similar shouting approach on some of their albums. After a couple of other songs following in a similar vein, we come to "Catatonic", a bloodcurdling cry of anguish at a horrific and tragic birth. For the first time on the album, there are now passages of quiet, thoughtful and bluesy-sounding bass-dominated melody that alternate with blasts of sledgehammer guitars; there's some actual singing as well.
From here on the album becomes something of a mixed bag of anger and exasperation at humanity's stupidity and violence, and a resigned philosophical sort of outlook that looks at the fate of the planet and humans after the Mother of All Apocalypses has been and gone. "The Wall of Yawn" appears no different from the rest of the album and especially from the album's second half where you get schizophrenic songs of blast-out-loud hardcore punk and contemplative blues quietude; what makes "The Wall ..." different is its lyrics, which herald the songwriting and themes of flight and spiritual journey that would appear on later Sleep albums and then Om recordings.
"The Scourge" is as divided as the songs in its half of the album but being instrumental it highlights the contrasts much more, especially in the slow bluesy parts.
The attack is full-on, harsh and abrasive, and lacks that easy, surging, down-tuned bass-heavy power of later Sleep albums. The songs don't flow all that easily and if it weren't for the quieter sections in the later half of the recording, the album can appear one-dimensional to a lot of listeners: all toughing-out, raucous hardcore punk guitar blast. On its own, "Volume 1" is quite a good album though it's not easy to listen to, and it does show early signs that it's a unique beast, not to be replicated on a follow-up album. As part of the entire Sleep corpus, the album appears brittle compared to later work. The main value of "Volume 1" is that it provides a lyrical and thematic foundation for Sleep's later work: why do Sleep (and its successor band Om) bang on so much about astral travel, spiritual journeys leading to enlightenment and other subjects in the realm of sci-fi / fantasy? The answer is that they have looked around our world, seen its failures and realised there must be other ways for humans to find validity and peace ... and one way is to go within ourselves and undertake inner exploration.
The front cover artwork is a painting by Salvador Dali: through it, we feel something of the pain and oppression of the modern world, and the ridiculous nature of that world and what it says about humans. That Dali was a surrealist is appropriate too: just as surrealism relied on dreamworlds to open up people's minds and creativity, so "Volume 1" promises something similar, within and beyond.
Sleep's (obviously) first album is a perfect example of doom metal; I've heard a lot of complaints about it being too different from all their other work, but it's really an evolution from their beginnings as a sludgy crust punk outfit (Asbestosdeath) to a metal band. In fact three out of four of the songs that Asbestosdeath recorded are on this album. Although Sleep proved to me a great Stoner-Doom band, the stoner influence is much less seen in this album, it doesn't make it any less a great album. A crushing wall of sound, this album starts off with some sort of chant, but soon goes into the first song, a crushing, sludgy doom track. From there, it's a lot of the same stuff, the general tone is about the same, but it isn't a repetitive album by any means, every song has it's own very different riff, and each one is better than the last.
Personally, as far as the vocals go, I prefer the vocals of this album over most of the vocals on Holy Mountain, the vocals here are more like those of Dopesmoker or Jerusalem, although faster, at least as far as fast goes, they aren't fast, just not quite as slow.
As the album comes to a close, the song "Scourge" shows up, this song is different because it is strictly instrumental, straying from the crushing doom theme of the rest of the album, it's more of a show of their talent, personally one of my favorite tracks on the album, it shows how varied they can be, playing a much more melodic track, although still definitely heavy, it's a great closer to a great album.
This is album is great for any metal fan, although many would argue that Volume 1 is one of their weaker albums, not being their best album doesn't make it at all weak, this is a must have for any sleep fan, and a good listen for any metal fan, or rock fan for that matter, and a must-have for Sleep fans.
This is Sleep's debut album and while it sounds different of all their other albums, there's no denying that this is still Sleep. I'd also say that this is their weakest album and is an acquired taste, if anything. There were 4 members in the band when they recorded this and this definitely changed the chemistry of the band.
This album isn't as bluesy as Sleep's Holy Mountain" or laden with stonerisms like "Dopesmoker". In contrast, it's very dark and gloomy and the lyrics focus more on misery, negativity, and soul rot. Just take a look at the song titles and it's obvious this album is full of dirges.
"The Suffering" is a cool song. I like that riff @ 0:37, then you have the part @ 3:07 that goes: "what is a soul, a mind, constructed by social bind". That right there is the heaviest part of the entire album. The intro of "Nebuchadnezzar's dream" is also a heavy one. This album isn't as heavy as I wanted it to be and I'm a little disappointed with this release. I kind of had a feeling just by looking at the cover art. That and this was their first album.