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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.