The Sciences

Written by: AP on 14/10/2018 21:16:49

The actual event of Sleep issuing “The Sciences” — their first studio album in 19 years — may have caught everyone by surprise, but the date on which it was released cannot have. After all, Sleep is widely considered to be the quintessential stoner metal band in attitude as well as sound, having infamously spent an entire record label advance on weed and vintage amplifiers in 1996, and jammed out a single hour-long track, which first became the unauthorised edit that is “Jerusalem” in 1999, and since the iconic, band-sanctioned release that is “Dopesmoker” in 2003. Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros famously stated that smoking cannabis and improvisation were essential to the song’s creative process, so what better way to consolidate the band’s return, which has been sporadically underway since 2009, than by dropping a new record out of the blue on a dopesmoker’s holiest day?

Despite the anecdotal preamble to this review, however, “The Sciences”, is not a free-flowing record in its predecessor’s vein. Actually, it is quite a restrained album by Sleep’s standards, neatly divided into five individual tracks plus a titular intro, which sounds like the trio is tuning their instruments with the amplifiers cranked up. These three minutes of distorted noise do play a role in setting the stage for the rest of the material though, bestowing it with the organic feeling of a live recording although it isn’t one, and making it sound like everything was jammed out in a single session even if it wasn’t. In fact, both “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” have existed in different forms for a number of years, a bouncier version of the former having served as the second track on the 2003-version of “Dopesmoker”, and a rough take on the latter occasionally having featured on live setlists ever since the group reunited almost a decade ago. Mind you, they have of course been reworked to conform to the bluesy, droning and narcotising style of “The Sciences”, and injected with additional oomph in order to fit the heaviest record by Sleep yet.

“The Sciences”, like the rest of Sleep’s output, obviously speaks to the stoner crowd, often in bizarre and punny ways, but taking drugs is not in any way a prerequisite to enjoying the album and feeling its groove. The songs themselves (or ‘rifftuals’, as they are called in “Giza Butler”) are the drug, and you’ll get high just by listening to the cyclic, hypnotic riffage of guitarist Matt Pike, and in particular the mantric, at times almost messianic singing of bassist Al Cisneros. Indeed, Sleep seems to have benefited from the two artists’ time apart, Cisneros returning from Om with a philosophy of more inward-turning, meditative songwriting, and Pike bringing in a chestful of classic ’Sabbath riffs deemed incompatible with the fire and fury of High on Fire. The real difference between tracks like “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and the Sleep of old, however, is drummer Jason Roeder, who also plies his trade for Neurosis. His jazzy, freeform percussion in tracks like “Marijuanaut’s Theme” represents a seismic shift away from the atavism of “Jerusalem”/“Dopesmoker” and often assumes a starring role in the music, directing the groove and dropping in fills that seem to amplify the melody itself. These sophisticated rhythms are a welcome addition to Sleep’s palette, not to mention an important asset for the band’s quest to apply new skills to old attitudes on this album.

Truly, the album plays like a high school reunion, with these old buds pretending they’re still young, yet slowly coming to realise how much they’ve changed over the last 15 years. Cisneros and Pike still rejoice in their pot portmanteaus: they celebrate the Iommic Pentacost, bless the indica fields and lovingly nickname Cisneros’ great influence, Geezer Butler, The CBDeacon in “Giza Butler”; they search for a riff beacon signal through hashteroid fields in their reimagining of the cult television series “Dune” that is “Marijuanaut’s Theme”; and they urge melting icebergs to fight back against the cities responsible for their impending demise in “Antarcticans Thawed”. Classic Sleep though these drug-enticed musings may be, the additional decade and a half of experience underlying them nonetheless translates into some of the most audacious and versatile material the band has written to date. It feels like being shoved through a kaleidoscope — slowly, yet violently — the thunder of Pike’s low-cadence riffage bellowing around you as Cisneros beckons you toward a spiritual awakening with the power of his shamanic voice. Once the bluesy, instrumental “Botanist” brings the ‘rifftual’ to a conclusion with guitar solo upon guitar solo, you thus feel like you have experienced something transformative. And with that, Sleep have managed to not just reaffirm their legacy, but boost it — regardless of whether “The Sciences” heralds the coming of a second era of Sleep or not.


Download: Marijuanaut’s Theme, Antarcticans Thawed, Giza Butler
For the fans of: Acid King, Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard, Om
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.04.2018
Third Man Records

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