Sleep - Dopesmoker [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dopesmoker [reissue] (2012)

Southern Lord Recordings

I kind of can't believe Dopesmoker exists. I mean, I know it's real. I've been listening to it for a couple of weeks now. I just can't believe the members of Sleep created and submitted this album to London Records. For a pop-oriented label, Dopesmoker must have seemed pretty far out there. I love it, and even I still kind of see where London was coming from when it refused to release the album.

Before its members went on to form High on Fire and Om, Sleep was an up-and-coming '90s sludge metal trio. But once they got a taste of label money, they got perhaps a little too experimental on what proved to be their last album. Dopesmoker was intended to be one 63-minute song about pot-smoking aliens called the Weedians on a bong-filled quest to Nazareth. Its lyrics are thoroughly stoned (Sample line: "Follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land"). Its low end is an abyss. It is an awesome song if you can make it through to the end.

Ultimately, London declined to release Dopesmoker and Sleep broke up. While a few attempts at releasing the song/album have been launched in the past, both officially and unofficially, Southern Lord has recently released what is perhaps the closest to a complete version. Backed by a superfluous bonus live track (Seriously? You're gonna hem and haw about keeping Dopesmoker at one track and then throw in a live bootleg?), this is the heaviest, longest, best version of Dopesmoker.

Despite its running time, "Dopesmoker" does have a fair amount of structure, perhaps aided by the fact that Sleep had to record it in installments since the reel-to-reel available could hold only 22 minutes of music at a time. Previous bootlegs even managed to break up the song into several tracks/movements. But if you're down for following Sleep on this marijuana-laced adventure, "Dopesmoker" is best experienced as a single, Sabbath-friendly cut.

Make no mistake, you will feel those 63 minutes at times. "Dopesmoker" has a lengthy guitar intro before the rest of the band kicks in, let alone the vocals. I consistently zone out around the 45-minute mark, during what might be the 20th guitar solo, but that's part of the song's charm. It absorbs you in its layers and just carries you off to sludgy depths unknown. This edition in particular delivers a thoroughly heavy listening experience. The song is still plenty murky, but there's a weight to the instruments that shakes the bones. For those willing to make the trek, Dopesmoker is a hell of a journey.