There’s not a lot of surprise packed into the annual 4/20 high holiday. People are going to smoke a lot of pot. Social media is going to be bombarded with pot leaves and various imagery from that culture. People are probably going to drop out of life and watch “Pineapple Express” and other movies of that ilk as they zone away. But, weirdly, last Friday did come with a colossal surprise.
Granted, word leaked a day early that April 20 would bring with it—finally!—“The Sciences,” a new full-length record from marijuana enthusiasts Sleep, the three-headed beast best known for their massive single-track epic “Dopesmoker,” the last complete effort from the band since 2003. And considering “Dopesmoker” was a reworking of 1998’s “Jerusalem,” it had been even longer since we got a fresh new full-length from this legendary band. Luckily, “The Sciences” is well worth the wait, a pummeling six-track, 53-minute serving of stoner-style doom metal that is packed to the top with riffs. Another surprise is that the band is now on Third Man Records, Jack White’s label that has an eclectic roster, with this being one of their rare forays into metal. So, that’s pretty weird. But everything about this record fits perfectly, from the bizarre, cosmic adventures into pot immersion, to the fiery guitar work, to the total demolition you’ll experience. These guys—vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros (also of OM), guitarist Matt Pike (High on Fire), and drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis)—deliver over and over on a record that’s destructively heavy but also a shitload of fun.
The title track opens the proceedings, a piece that acts as the first of an instrumental bookend. It lets feedback swirl, guitars jab and begin aggravation, and it puts your mind among the stars before that big, bubbling bong hit rips you from that scene and right into “Marijuanat’s Theme.” Burly riffs and Cisneros’ purposely monotone singing drive you into the song, giving you an instant and prolonged intergalactic high. Smoking soloing releases psychedelic fire, while the back end of the track pummels before ending abruptly. “Sonic Titan” is a 12:26 brawler that opens with a killer riff before pulling back the pace and delivering the pounding in a calculated manner. The track continues to build monoliths to the sky before tearing them down again, as the lead guitars scorch, and the beefy basslines buzz in your ears. “Look onto Zion, though it can’t be seen,” Cisneros wails. “Man on the moon cannot help me see.” What does that mean? Who the fuck knows? What we can say is the music blisters, sending fire-breathing guitar work into the heavens and back and leaving you a pummeled mess.
“Antarcticans Thawed” is the longest cut at 14:23, and immediately a haze situates itself over everything. The riffs hypnotize, while the grimy singing scrapes tracks across the frozen tundra. The track is slowly beastly, with the guitars feeling druggy and woozy, but also heavy as hell. In the track’s final quarter, Pike just explodes to life, as his guitar work raises your hairs and mows down what’s in its path. That intensity eventually dissipates into a slow burn, where the drumming taps way, a fog blanket emerges, and the song bleeds out in noise. “Giza Butler” is, obviously, complete homage to Black Sabbath, the original weedians, and is named after their legendary bassist Geezer Butler. The track is packed with Sabbath references, from signaling the Iommic Pentecost to heralding the Sabbath Day. There are goddamn “Dune” references, as well as the greatest lyric of this year to date: “The pterodactyl flies again.” The track itself starts slowly and ominously, adding layers of intensity, and eventually we are at full Sabbath worship, as riffs clobber the senses in full tribute to metal’s godfathers. The record ends with “The Botanist,” the back part of the instrumental bookend that simmers in brighter lights, some somber moments, and eventually blinding green glory as the song ends in a smoky cloud.
Sleep’s return to releasing new music is a blaze of infectious power with “The Sciences,” a record that powerfully checks every box one would hope from this band. Get ready for plenty of strange marijuana references and the feeling that you’re ensconced in the middle of a battle in space. There’s a reason this band is held in such high regard—and not just because they’re perpetually high—as they deliver music that leaves you with bruises despite all the magic your brain experienced for the previous hour.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/officialsleep
To buy the album, go here: https://thirdmanstore.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://thirdmanrecords.com/