Third Man Records
About as legendary as it gets in the small yet potent genre of stoner doom, Sleep were asleep for a long time after various label troubles meant that they would release nothing in fifteen years. Coming back completely out of the blue with fifth full-length The Sciences on April 20th of this year (4/20 according to stoner parlance) and opening said album with mostly feedback and a bong rip forming the title track, this might be mistaken for an album that is only of interest to stoners, fans of the sweet leaf, self-confessed players of the green oboe. Yet even if you're new to Sleep and haven't undertaken the hour-long trip that is the legendary Dopesmoker, which for an hour-long track is far more accessible and enjoyable than, say, Boris' Absolutego or early Sunn O))), there's much to enjoy here. Metal songs are often built around riff repetitions and Dopesmoker is that drawn out over an hour instead of three or four minutes, a slowed-down version of much the same formula that Matt Pike uses to such success in his High On Fire project. And accordingly long-term fans will recognise in The Sciences a continuation of the band's earlier works, spiritually and physically renewing their sound despite barely changing it, if at all.
After the aforementioned opening title track, Marijuanaut's Theme is the first song proper, basically a condensed version of Dopesmoker with its strident riffing, almost robotic vocals an afterthought compared to the roaring guitars. It's a cliché but so slow is the riffing, a considered pace that demands the listeners' full attention that you can feel the world slowing around you, a vibe continued on the following Sonic Titan (only appearing on record before as a rare bonus track or a live recording) but feeling perfectly suited to a Sleep album in 2018. Around the centre point there's a bassy exchange that feels more Black Sabbath than anything the Brummie legends have produced in decades, the vocals about men on the moon looking to Zion about as stoner as it's possible to get. Antarcticans Thawed, the longest track present at over fourteen minutes, is slower and more atmospheric, and perhaps the weakest song on the album due to feeling a little plodding and meandering at points, soon picking up towards the end however with some tremendous extended soloing.
Giza Butler, something of a tribute to the Sabbath bassist, is a real highlight, a slow build-up and spooky atmosphere helped by the dominance of the bass in the sound, even giving it an unaccompanied solo. And closing song The Botanist in just over six minutes forms something of an outro to the album, a more melodic and wistful vibe as it approaches psychedelic rock territory rather than fuzzed-out Sabbath worship, a fake ending leading to some showing-off from Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder, who replaced Chris Hakius but does a superb job throughout the album. There's something about The Sciences that takes you back to more youthful days when the mere idea of an hour-long track was enough to impress you, a time when buying an album and carefully listening to it multiple times to warrant the purchase price was the norm instead of merely firing up Spotify or Apple Music and pressing a button. And indeed, each track present is an event in and of itself, demanding your full attention whether stoned or not. Awoken from their slumber with a gift of an album, Sleep are legendary for a reason, and The Sciences is a welcome addition to an all-too-small discography.
Goat quoted 88 / 100
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