Sleep

support Pharaoh Overlord
author RUB date 10/10/19 venue Train, Århus, DEN

My initial gateway to Sleep was through High on Fire and their guitarist Matt Pike, as he mans the axe in both bands. What once was his & bassist Al Cisneros’ first brainchild together, has since transformed into some sort of supergroup, given that each members also plays in another band nowadays. With Cisneros on the bass and vocals in Om (which he formed with original Sleep drummer Chris Hakius), newest member Jason Roeder manning the drums for Neurosis, and, as just mentioned, Pike wielding the guitar and handling vocals in High on Fire, the three musicians have all moved on from the stoner/doom mastodon that is Sleep. Luckily, back in 2009, they thought the time was right to reunite and not only tour, but also release new material. And while from all of the bands just mentioned my favourite is still High on Fire, after revisiting both Sleep’s older material and their newest opus “The Sciences”, it is with great anticipation of what is to come that I enter the Train venue in Århus just in time to catch the supporting act.

All photos courtesy of Sebastian Dammark

Pharaoh Overlord

I wouldn’t colour myself that surprised with the turnout here, given that Sleep are without a doubt revered in their genre, but more people have showed up on this rainy Thursday than I had expected. We are first treated to a warm-up set by the Finns in Pharaoh Overlord, and I’m initially surprised by how upbeat the music is, when taking tonight’s headliner into consideration. Yet as the songs progress, you notice how heavy and even droning the music can also be. And even though the tone of the duo’s music strikes me as jollier than Sleep, a stoner band such a Torche still springs to mind. The two musicians on stage have a very minimalistic setup; the drum set only consists of a snare, a hi-hat, a single cymbal, and equipment to control the backing tracks and electronic beats -- that’s it. But these beats actually contribute a lot to the droning vibes; more than I would’ve thought. This makes me think of Kraftwerk (on drugs maybe?), and a friend of mine even makes a comparison between Pharaoh Overlord and Hawkwind (if they were a duo). Needless to say, the duo’s sound has me quite intrigued. They utilize these electronic elements together with plenty of strobe and some strange, dramatic role-play in between the songs, which helps them keep to a common thread, come across as consistent, and introduce flow into the show throughout.

Pharaoh Overlord

The sound isn’t too high — only slightly above 100 dB — but the bass on the other hand is already pounding hard, warming up the crowd nicely for Sleep, which, if past shows are anything to go by, will probably be even louder and heavier than this. But back to the Finns… I find the combination of genres they incorporate into their music rather strange. During the third track I even get a Night Flight Orchestra-vibe, thanks to that easily distinguishable ‘80s sound the keys take on. This is mixed with various screams, growls and freaky noises from vocalist Jussi Lehtisalo, which again underlines the band’s unique, albeit strange sound and mix of genres, and although I probably wouldn’t straight-up call myself a new fan, I’m still very much interested in checking these guys out further. It’s quite bizarre stuff, but to be honest, I like it. During the last track Lehtisalo starts pounding his stomach to the droning drum beat, engages in perplexing dance moves, and even gives the drummer a back rub during the long outro — yes, that kind of weirdness. I can definitely recommend anyone to check them out.

7

Sleep

After the familiar, lengthy intro “The Moon Landing Radio Transmission” and a slight delay of 15 minutes, Sleep finally take the stage. The music is obviously very heavy, and already from the first song, the crowd unleash their massive expectations for this act through physical movement. Every head is banging in heavy unison and the band also seems willing and ready for the task at hand. As energetic as a band within this genre can be, and within the limitations and boundaries set by the music, the three musicians deliver the music with plenty of flare, passion and in fact energy. Matt Pike, who only has to rely on his guitar in this outfit, in particular delivers his performance with plenty of vigor in that he noticeably feels every single stroke he makes. And even drummer Jason Roeder puts every bit of energy he has into the pounding of his drum skins. It might seem unfair that Cisneros isn’t mentioned here in such light, as every member deserves to be highlighted, as each in their own manner, they showcase their musical prowess in their own respective field to such an extent that there can be very little doubt as to whether you’re witnessing something unique and spectacular.

Al Cisneros of Sleep

The thing I like about good stoner and doom metal is that even though the beat and tempo of the music can be quite droning and constant, it’s still sort of ever-changing and evolving. The devil is in the details, so you have to pay attention — as shown, for instance, by how magical and wondrous a rhythm can truly be. Take “Marijuanaut’s Theme”: the track is filled with groovy greatness and the melody hits you like sonic waves, with every stroke carefully orchestrated. And when the music does make a progression, it just hits all the right notes and makes your head bang even more. What also strikes me with Sleep, and especially their latest opus “The Sciences”, of which half of tonight’s setlist is made up, is how you can hear the influence every band member has brought into it from his respective band and genre. It’s all thrown into a single pot and mixed with plenty of down-tuned, slow, heavy, and distorted riffs. And, as seen during the final track of the night with “Dragonaut”, people are still very much alive, quickly moving further towards the front of the stage. They want a last taste of the stoner action and start banging their heads even more, as well as casting themselves into energetic movement with jumping and even a moshpit (never thought I’d see that at a Sleep show!) during this final song. And after roughly and hour and a half, the band leaves the stage with huge grins on their faces. Perhaps they also knew how good this gig has actually been.

And that’s the exceptional thing about watching this music, and this band live. The live performance gives so much more vibrant energy, flow and feeling to the songs; music like this is given a whole different level of heavy intensity, and coupled with the presence of a couple of hundred headbangers, this is truly a spectacle to witness. Take the word from a guy that only likes, not loves Sleep on record: in a live environment they are godlike and without a doubt living legends.

9

Setlist:

  • 01. Intro: The Moon Landing Radio Transmission
  • 02. Marijuanaut’s Theme
  • 03. Holy Mountain
  • 04. The Clarity
  • 05. Sonic Titan
  • 06. Giza Butler
  • 07. Leagues Beneath
  • 08. The Botanist
  • 09. Dragonaut

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