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Better late than never - 90%

TrooperEd, July 5th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Third Man Records (Digipak)

Matt Pike said he was hoping to release both a new Sleep AND a new High On Fire album in the same year last year. Neither happened, and I was a very sad panda. Then on 4/20 (hardy har) Sleep unsuspectingly dropped this on the public and those of us not in the know had to wait quite a few months for this to even be buyable. Well, behind schedule or not, here's hoping Matt goes two for two, particularly with that 20th anniversary High On Fire tour about to happen as of this writing. Come on Matt! Go where no man has gone before!

When deciding how to describe The Sciences, I figured the simplest choice was to simply call it Holy Mountain II. Its song oriented, the songs all rule, so who cares if three of them are over 10 minutes? But then I started thinking that in context, perhaps the Sciences is not a combination of Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker, but a compromise. Trying to recapture the magic of an album length track twice in a lifetime would surely be suicide (the first one virtually was for Sleep), so this is a fair halfway point. If nothing else, I'm just happy I don't have to go digging for a copy of that Volume Two EP to get my grimy hands on a studio version of Sonic Titan (and double checking now that apparently isn't even on the official version), which has been well worth the wait.

Oh yes, Jason Roeder from Neurosis is here, as a result of Chris and Al never quite making up from their ugly divorce. I've heard a few people describe this album as being Sleep plus moments of High On Fire, Om, and Neurosis thrown in to spice things up. I was tempted to title this review 'High Om Neurosis?' at first, but I didn't because I don't hear any such moments in this album. No frantic thrashing of Devilution, Rumors of War or Snakes For The Divine; no tribal rolling tom sixteenth notes of Through Silver In Blood, Under The Surface or End of the Harvest; and well, I've never listened to any Om so I can't make any calls in that regard, but I will say that Al's singing is noticeably different this time around. If this is how he normally sounds on Om feel free to let me know. Holy Mountain's vocals were a pale imitation of Ozzy's ghastly vocals of the early Sabbath years, Dopesmoker's seemed more of monstrous bellow (this delivery returns for Antarcticans Thawed), but overall vocals of The Sciences go for a more baritone approach. At least this time around I know Matt isn't singing at all here. But if there are elements of Neurosis or High On Fire here, they are very, VERY subtle. Jason blends into the Sleep sound so well you wouldn't know it was someone other than Chris.

At the end of the day, that is the best possible net result. Anything Matt Pike wants to shred I'm totally down for, but I'm content that he had the restraint to solely deliver slow ideas. With my constant comparisons to Holy Mountain (it is the best song oriented example after all), I will say the one thing that is not here that is there are those lightning fast time changes that spiced up songs like The Druid and Dragonaut. Nonetheless, I don't consider that a flaw. If I do have any complaints, its that there aren't ENOUGH Sabbath references in the ingeniously titled Giza Butler. We get Sabbath Day, Iommic Pentacost and that's it. Once again Bill Ward is left out. Seriously, if there was ever a chance to make a Victory/Blood of the Kings type of song with as many song-titles stuffed in as possible, this would have been it! I consider it a missed opportunity. Regardless, the opening of said track is probably my favorite moment of the album, as it lulls you into a false sense of security thinking it's going to be a more relaxed jam throughout the track's duration(Jason even breaks out the brushes). Then without warning after the 2 minute mark, it returns to smashing doom business as usual. Gosh, it's almost as if you can bring in new ideas without sacrificing what made your band great in the first place (gives an extremely dirty leer in the direction of a certain Finnish Disney fanatic).

The Sciences is the best surprise of 2018 with not a single wasted second. Shit, it makes me happy that it's 1993 again in 2018, as opposed to insert whatever year of the 80s you think is my favorite. Even the intro track, usually an abhorred tradition, is a brilliant musical prelude via feedback. Hell it might be the best "feedback" track I've ever heard, which is not saying much, but hey, it's something. Do you like true metal? I thought so, go study The Sciences, and pick up your ScM in CBDeacons today!

Planet Iommia nearing. - 65%

GrizzlyButts, June 25th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Third Man Records

The first time I smoked weed is somehow still one of my most vivid memories from my sophomore year of high school, as I’d been invited to a friend’s birthday party and once there the Fellowship of the Douche saw promise in me. “Hey, I bet you’d be really weird when you’re drunk and high.” (Note: Because I’m a weird person.) But there was a quest involved as only four could fit in the car to go buy weed and two of us were tasked with walking through the suburban hills of Corvallis, Oregon towards a friend’s house where another friend’s big sister would pick us up to go to another friends house that was out in yonder farming territory. Tom and I, like Frodo and his endearing Samwise, landed in the midst of Walnut Park. A great place for a picnic, my first baseball game, and later where I’d discover LSD. At the time they’d been tearing up the brambles, blackberry bushes, that covered a huge portion of the land to excise a portion of the park for the development of new homes. As such there were paths between the bushes and pine trees where we lit up there in the dark.

He filled up a small water-pipe with fountain water. You see, in mid-90’s suburbia water fountains always worked. It was a bubbler, a small bearded pipe with a reservoir for water. From the point of toke we had roughly fifteen minutes to run to our other friends house, so we could be picked up by another friend’s sister, to go to his house. I immediately became night blind, giddy, and loose-jointed to the point of nearly falling down. But there was no time to be sixteen and stoned in the Oregon wilderness at 9:30pm on a Friday night, we ran like wolves towards our Chinese friend’s parent’s mansion. Tom’s house was nearby, they could only fit one of us in the van and so I was picked to go rather than make me walk home. If not for his sacrifice, and relative unpopularity, I wouldn’t have made friends that lasted a few years past high school. That night I slept in a camper where their cats peed and fought outside my friends house feeling pretty great about the whole ‘getting stoned’ thing.

But really it wasn’t until I started playing the guitar that I began to realize the potential experience of mixing riffs with marijuana. From Morbid Angel to Possessed I felt the adrenaline-enhancing effects of lighting up and playing fast, but it wasn’t until I discovered Neurosis and Crowbar that I’d gotten a brief hint of doom’s warm and fuzzy grip upon the stoned mind. Electric Wizard‘s ‘Dopethrone’ was the only socially acceptable stoner music among my friends who were stuck on Sublime, Kottonmouth Kings, and whatever reggae they’d stolen off KaZa or eMule. My interest in music was more important than the terrible friends I’d made in high school, so I moved on. Getting high, playing the guitar and listening to music was the only important thing to me from age 16-25 and I achieved very little in that time period outside of a few college courses and a pretty sweet Sega Genesis cartridge collection. I discovered Sleep when ‘Dopesmoker’ came out but only because it was relevant to High on Fire who’d more or less just released the underrated ‘Surrounded By Thieves’.

The bulk of my indoctrination with Sleep‘s stoner rock and doom metal hybridization took place in the mid-2000’s and with High on Fire and Electric Wizard going strong there were plenty of other things to move onto. Upon firing up ‘The Sciences’ I was absolutely sure that this was the same band but have yet to find greater musical value in a full listen of the album. Released to an awkward level of “Hey bro, u high 2 day 2?” twitter hype on 4/20 I put off listening to ‘The Sciences’ because not only was I not stoned, but there are endless streams of Sleep influenced stoner/doom bands releasing albums every month and most of them are arguably better than the bunk reek of their ‘The Clarity’ single from 2014. Why give a legacy group priority, or money, just for showing up again after twenty years?

Well, to be fair they’re all still really good at what they do. From Violent Coercion all the way up to ‘Fires Within Fires’ Jason Roeder has played on several of my favorite records of all time. Matt Pike is basically sludge metal’s Lemmy and ‘Blessed Black Wings’ is still sharp as a tack. Al Cisneros is maybe the squirt of the operation who only really ever appealed to me in Sleep, and I couldn’t really bring myself to follow Om after ‘Conference of the Birds’. So, in giving into the groove and lyrical puns of ‘The Sciences’ I’ve found myself enjoying it despite not really getting high anymore. I don’t think Pike‘s solos are particularly good, or well recorded. Cisneros‘ bass tone is a bit lost compared to previous Sleep records. But it all amounts to a pretty decent listen that doesn’t actually end up as a self-parodying crime. That is about all one can ask from any band returning after twenty years avoiding each other.

At some point in listening to this album over the last several weeks I realized that I was having more fun thinking about other Sleep albums, and times I got high as a teenager, rather than enjoying ‘The Sciences’. Also, several of these songs were already familiar or previously released in other forms so if it all feels warmly familiar it isn’t just because ‘they’re back’. The Black Sabbath inspired riffs are there, check. The weed puns are alive, check. The unholy guitar tone is different, but close enough, check. I’ll stick with ‘Volume 1’ and ‘Jerusalem’ in general. The same way I didn’t personally need any other Slayer records after 1994, Sleep don’t have any great reason to return to what they were doing in 1999. It’s a cool thing that happened, though.

Attribution: https://grizzlybutts.com/2018/05/18/sleep-the-sciences-2018-review/

Ice cap miles thaw to freedom - 100%

rvsso, May 20th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, 2 12" vinyls, Third Man Records (Green vinyl)

What has not already been said about this album… a true landmark surprise release by one of the godfathers of the metal genre, and pioneers of the stoner subgenre that has spawned thousands of copycat bands. Sleep returns to crush inferiority into spacedust with a lineup that has become a supergroup at this point. All of the members’ respective bands forms a perfect equation for Sleep’s sound: a sacred, sabbathian, smoky adventure towards the beyond. Matt Pike is the unquestioned riff god of today, and he is the reason these songs transcend all the stereotypes of stoner doom, powering past monotony and slowness just for the sake of it into a nebula of creativity and variety while crushing all bone matter within a certain radius.

We are finally gifted the official releases of two tracks that have long been played live: “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” and they do not disappoint. The title of Om’s first album (bassist Al Cisneros’ other band) is titled “Variations on a Theme” and not only is it fitting for Om’s output, but it is also apt for the way Sleep perform songs, which is why they are able to execute long songs to perfection. This album is the perfect follow up to “Dopesmoker” as Sleep have been able to harness the same energy and songwriting prowess to deliver the goods on the long tracks. “Sonic Titan” is exactly as the name suggests, and when the smoke clears about five minutes in, all that’s left is the pure power of the bass guitar proving its might as the backbone of the cosmic voyage.

“Antarcticans Thawed” is the highlight of the album, both musically and lyrically. Sleep’s lyrics have never been deep or scholarly or mysterious, but here the imagery that is conveyed transports this song to another level. The second line “sets free Antarctic legions” gives you the sense that an ancient force possessed by riffs has been unleashed from the frozen wasteland, and will bring destruction previously unseen by mankind. Sleep’s use of the unknown in their themes, whether it is the frozen mountainous abyss of Antarctica or the mysterious realms of deep space, gives their music a unique otherworldly quality that seems both honest and foreboding, as if the members possess some sort of primordial knowledge. The vocals near the end of this track have this nasty grit that is extremely satisfying, giving off an aggressive vibe as the song comes to a close; its just magnificent.

Aside from the previously mentioned song, the best moment on the album comes in “Giza Butler”, which is aptly titled as the bass lines are out of this universe. The moment in question is the riff that simultaneously begins with the line “marijuana is his light and his salvation”, about 5:50 into the song. The entire track takes an aggressive turn while the vocals still maintain their meditative quality, and it is a supremely transcendent experience. The way that Sleep can seamlessly transition to these more aggressive qualities is what separates them from their too stoned peers, and this is credit to the members’ other bands rubbing off on their playing style. We all know what we’re getting with Sleep, who are a flawless studio band and one of the greatest live bands of our time, and any creation that bears their name is beyond worthy of undivided attention. An instant classic.

~ Originally written for agatized.net ~

Follow the Smoke - 85%

KonradKantor, May 12th, 2018

When paths diverge… only to collide.

It has been a while since any transmissions from the godfathers of stoner doom have been received. Sure, there was a one-song EP that saw the replacement of Chris Hakius by Neurosis’ drummer, Jason Roeder. About a decade prior to The Clarity, Sleep released a new remix / remaster of what remains to this day one of the genre’s definitive masterpieces, Jerusalem. The Dopesmoker version has since been released 12 different times between 2003 and 2016, the fan favorite depicting a bunch of interplanetary bong worshipers walking in single file to hide their numbers. If there was ever any question as to whether or not Oakland’s lovable ganja knights were as serious about their love for Mary Jane as they proclaim, just think about this: Until the twentieth day of the fourth month of the two thousand and eighteenth year of somebody’s LORD, Sleep wrote and released three songs in 26 fucking years. THREE.

The above statement is by no means meant to diminish the insane amount of work Pike, Cisneros, and Hakius have put in over the years, both in Sleep and in their other projects, namely Om and the beloved High On Fire, the latter of which questionably remains the most internationally popular band out of the three when it comes to record sales (for now). While High On Fire, lead by Matt Pike’s anvil-weighted riffs and tremendously charming personality, has put in considerably more work than the other bands mentioned, it is Cisneros’ meditative and guitarless Om that seems to have had the greatest amount of influence on Sleep during its very long off-season.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a few small puffs from the joint I rolled earlier…

From the very core of rock music comes rhythm, and that is the first thing worth mentioning about Sleep’s surprise album, The Sciences. Actually, in the spirit of getting sidetracked, shouldn’t they have released the album a few days after 4/20? I didn’t think stoners were supposed to be on time. Or stay on track. Ah, where was I? The rhythm, yes. Well, there’s no rhythm on the first track, really, because it’s somewhat of an intro. Thankfully, it wasn’t the entire recording of the moon landing the band does when it plays live, because that would have been… long. “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” though, is the definition of what it means to be leaders of a trend. Cisneros’ bass lines and vocals, alongside Roeder’s cymbal work and Pike’s gyration-inducing riffs, just open the album with a marvelously sexy strut that maintains its structure even throughout the track’s first bass solo. God damn those cymbals are just… they will make you want to dance. Dance in your chair if you’re stuck at work. Dance in your car if you’re stuck at a red light. Just close your eyes and feel the rhythm. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of rock and roll, is somewhere listening to this and dancing. Yes, Holy Mountain delivered a serious amount of rhythm as well, but the new energy here makes Sleep sound confidently invigorated.

The edibles I consumed a few hours ago are finally starting to kick in…

Next up, The Sciences takes an interesting turn, as “Sonic Titan,” a track that has only seen live recordings in various forms, rears its head yet again, this time finally earning its place on a full-length. If there is a minor criticism to hurl at this album, it’s that the transition from new-sounding Sleep goes immediately back to songs-that-make-you-forget-where-you-were Sleep. Surely, the practice of dissecting all of the differences between different recordings of Dopesmoker and Jerusalem is far too pedantic for a sound within which one is actually supposed to get lost. Perhaps that’s a reminder Sleep wants its listeners to have. The very first recording of “Sonic Titan,” which was actually performed in front of a live audience in a much faster pace than the most recent version, would have perhaps fit in slightly better, but the band obviously chose the heavy route this time ’round. Like “old” Sleep, it’s fun and even a little disorienting until the heavy riffage periodically kicks in. The upside is that Pike really shows off his skills here, unlike the original version in which Ciseros’ bass soloing definitely steals the show. The guitars and bass near the end of the song seem to be soloing at once, which would make it more of a duet and holy balls it’s just really cool to see this band playing together again, isn’t it?

If the first half of the album is a demonstration of all the styles the band members have mastered over the years, side B is truly where the band hones in on its refreshed songwriting ability by piecing together all of said styles cohesively. “Antarcticans Thawed” is a great representation of Sleep’s knack for riding out long, drawn out riffs that give Roeder the chance to really solidify his still-new position in the band. The song is about Matterhorn’s children being set free by melting or some shit. Who fucking knows, but the lyrics paint a pretty fantastic visual picture of Antarcticans doing some gnarly things. Oh, I lost track of what I was actually doing during the solo, but hot damn at around 11:35 those pounding riffs and that head-bobbing rhythm snapped me out of it.

Now I have to take some some giant bong riffs as we approach Giza…

For those who have always wondered just what Om might have sounded like had the band used a guitar, the answer is finally here. “Giza Butler” begins as if it’s an alternate version of “At Giza,” the pivotal moment for Hakius before he unfortunately retired from the world of music in 2009. Thankfully, Roeder truly channels that same energy with the drums here. If there was ever a question as to whether his role as Sleep’s new / live drummer would ever be solidified, the answer is a resounding yes. Now, what do we have here?

A song about a Butler from Giza? It sounds Egyptian enough…

Ah, we have lyrics about the SABBATH DAY. Hmmm…

“Down to the bosque on day of Iommic Pentacost.”

HAH! Okay, the song is named after Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler.

Oh Lord, this song is just filled with references of all the things the band loves, isn’t it? Muad’ Doob Messiah? Really? I knew the Dopesmoker cover was really a tribute to Dune! Just as Giza Butler seems to be a tribute to all of the things Sleep has ever loved, such as Black Sabbath, which is admittedly Sleep’s greatest influence. There’s another subtle emotion conveyed in this song that whispers the togetherness of Pike and Cisneros, as if Sleep was here all along. Sure bits and pieces have splintered off to form new projects. It’s okay to get sidetracked, after all. There is much wisdom in saving drastic changes for new projects. In fact, there’s very little grey area when it comes to Sleep’s various side projects over the years, as most people gravitate strongly to either Om or High On Fire, but are less frequently enthralled by both bands. The only certainty is that if you do love them both, you will love The Sciences.

Where was I? On the subject of paths diverging and colliding, surely. Sleep has not only surprised the world with an album that is way better than it should be, it has also paid tribute to its old days, its members’ experiences in other musical projects, and hopefully days to come. If there was one thing that stuck out on the last mini-tour on which the band embarked, it was the anticipation and pure delight of the crowd that assembled to witness the awakening of something from the past.

Something about riffs and steady, rolling drum beats.

Matt Pike really does like to smoke a fuckton of weed in between songs, doesn’t he?

Al plays barefoot. Hope he doesn’t step on anything.

Volume at full blast, it’s time to feel the rhythm again. Where was I again?

Oh yeah, just following the smoke.

***

Originally written for Last Rites. http://yourlastrites.com

Journey through the abysses of the human psyche - 70%

kluseba, April 24th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Third Man Records

It was quite a clever publicity stunt when American stoner metal trio Sleep released its first studio record in fifteen years on April 20th, a day known for celebrating cannabis culture. The outstanding cover artwork of an astronaut surrounded by cannabis flowers blends in perfectly. I don't smoke but I attended a stoner metal concert last Saturday and felt like giving The Sciences a try.

The Sciences offers what you would expect from a stoner metal release. Distorted, heavy and slow riffs dominate the songs, the drums mostly sound lethargic yet pounding and the bass guitar adds a distorted, gloomy and muddy vibe to the hypnotizing soundscapes. It's easy to lose yourself in these six songs with running times cracking the ten-, twelve- and even fourteen-minute marks which is exactly what this type of music stands for.

It's difficult to point out any specific songs since this album is best enjoyed from start to finish as it takes you on a meandering journey through the weird abysses of the human psyche for fifty-three numbing minutes. Most songs start with slow and plodding riffs before the rhythm section quickens up the pace slightly. Vocals usually kick in after a few minutes. The last third of most tracks features a distorted guitar solo. The tracks often end randomly without proper conclusion but still manage to sound fluid because they all have a quite similar approach. The noisy production suits the concept perfectly and the record sounds as if the listener were standing right next to the band in a small studio.

The tracks are mostly instrumental and only a few of them occasionally feature some low-register and almost spoken-word vocals that I would have expected to sound a little bit more emotional, hypnotizing and wailing. They are mostly inoffensive and at times even slightly distracting from the instrumental work. The vocals are this record's only downside since they really don't add anything to the music.

In the end, Sleep's The Sciences is a solid stoner metal record, no more, no less. It's a great record to dream yourself far away and become one with its gloomy, hypnotizing and plodding soundscapes. One could have expected a little bit more after a waiting time of fifteen years since the last studio record but The Sciences is much more like a special gift for a special day than anything else. In that regard, Sleep's The Sciences is enjoyable to listen to as it gives fans exactly what they could have expected. Paying thirty bucks and more for the very limited vinyl editions is however way too much, so go grab the CD version or purchase this release digitally.

The Pterodactyl Flies Again - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, April 23rd, 2018

Just when the prospect of a new Sleep album started feeling like a doom metal Chinese Democracy, the stoner doom legends suddenly dropped their first album in fifteen years on April 20th, 2018. The idea of the original marijuanauts releasing a new album on 4/20 is the kind of joke that The Hard Times would reject for being too on the nose, yet here we are. The execution of this massive cliché was timed so perfectly and met with such enthusiasm that you just can’t help but applaud it.

Once Matt Pike finishes his guitar sound check on the awkwardly ambient title track, it becomes clear that The Sciences serves as a meeting point between Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the infamous Dopesmoker. Elements of the former can be seen in the upbeat swing on “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and the “Nain’s Baptism” instrumental calmness of “The Botanis,t” while the latter is most notably echoed in the cavernous drones of “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed.” The meditative “Giza Butler” is the album’s wild card, boasting atmospheric melodies that I like to think had their roots in Al Cisneros’ time with the illustrious Shrinebuilder.

As expected, the musicianship is stellar. Pike’s guitar is somehow rawer and cracklier than it had been in Sleep’s early days (possibly High on Fire related), but it’s fantastic to see him playing with the same tuning and riffing style without it sounding forced. Al Cisneros’s bass still provides groovy counterpoints despite not being as reliant on wah as he used to be, and his melodic vocals are somehow as commanding as they are zoned out. Drummer Jason Roeder may be a questionable factor for some by nature of not being Chris Hakius, but he proves to be a tight fit with a slew of intricate patterns.

Aside from the unnecessarily drawn out opening, the actual song choices may be the closest thing I have to a nitpick. It’s easy to see why “The Clarity” isn’t on here as it works as a standalone single but considering how “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” had been kicked around since at least the days of Jerusalem, it makes one wonder why those three songs weren’t released as an EP in 2014. But you really can’t complain when the results are this well written and amazing performed.

The Sciences is exactly what you would expect a Sleep album in 2018 to sound like. But in contrast to something like Black Sabbath’s 13, nothing about it sounds calculated or pandering. It’s a natural composite of the musicians’ initial run together, with enough sprinklings of subsequent projects to keep it from sounding like a complete retread. Some will inevitably deem this album too predictable, but it feels welcome even in an age where every other band has a “Dragonaut” up their sleeve. Peers and proteges in Electric Wizard and The Sword have fallen to the creative wayside at the hands of their own imitators, but Sleep is eternal. Praise Iommi.

Highlights:
“Marijuanaut’s Theme”
“Antarcticans Thawed”
“Giza Butler”

Originally published at http://indymetalvault.com