Sleep - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Philadelphia (2014)

live show

As is their mystical way, Sleep announced a Philadelphia concert, and a few other scattered dates, sometime ago with little fanfare, despite that Sleep playing anywhere, especially outside of the bay area is a REALLY big deal. Although they've recently released a new single and there have been rumors of a new album, it's unclear if Sleep is in a legacy phase of its existence or a re—birth. But, when the stoner metal titans played Philadelphia's Union Transfer on August 26, 2014, they made such a question irrelevant. That is to say, Sleep's new material isn't timely, it's timeless.

Two things make Sleep standout from all other bands of their ilk. First, despite that Sleep songs usually break the ten—minute mark live, and despite the fact that some of the band's tunes find them riding a tune into oblivion, they never cease to be compelling. At the Philadelphia show, "Dragonaut" was featured in all of its riff—worshipping glory. But, as the band rumbled through that famously looping strand, instead of just driving the riff into the ground, the band grew in intensity and power, sometimes slowing the titanic sound almost to a halt and sometimes speeding it up, growing in texture and color. Likewise, as the band sludged through a segment of the mammoth "Dopesmoker," which relies on texture and contrast as much as pure riffage, the band showed that while thee holy riff may be king, they're equally adept at melody. That is, the band savors texture and bathe in sound itself to the degree that the evolution, growing, and fading of a single note, when contrasted to two brothers, can be equally as captivating as an Iommic series.

Second, the band also showed their mastery by deviaitong from the standard stoner metal template. New song "The Clarity," began with an off—kilter computer like buzzing, thus echoing their astronaut theme from a few years prior. Then, after the smashing rifffs kicked in, the band merged into a combination of classic Sleep rumble and the modern trance—ish feel of vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros' other band, OM. This was a step above sheer riffage, but likewise, didn't try to distance itself from the core tennents of this kind of metal.

Equally interesting, in addition to "The Clarity," the band peppered in a few tracks which are new, or at least, previously unrecorded. "Sonic titan," (which has been featured as a live bonus track and is an early version of "Dopesmoker") fittingly opened the concert, prognosticating the "Dopesmoker" finale. Two other unrecorded tracks, "Cultivator" and "Antarcticans Thawed" were played live. Both bore the marks of modern day Sleep— heavy as iron riffs, but also a dedication to experimentation and a delectation of sound itself.

Sleep is playing their second half wisely. There is an appreciation, and even an embrace, of the older material and older style. But likewise, the band is continuing in new directions, while retaining their core identity. Proceed Weedians.

Rising doom—metal band Windhand opened the show and they were very well received by the Philly audience. Like the headlining act, the band made their trade in rumbling through riff heavy numbers that often reached the ten minute mark. Vocalist Dorthia Cottrell interestingly took an approach which is alternate to most modern doom metal bands. Most modern bands of that ilk will often opt for harsh or screeched vocals to make the music seem more threatening. By contrast, Cottrell looked further back and is obviously inspired by the wails of both Ozzy and Wino. He vocal style was cleaner, but no less haunting, than the scarier stuff. In fact, as he held out phrases for what seemed like hours, her howling went from the top of her throat down into her lungs and there was a certain essence of singers like Janis Joplin. Somehow, genuine soul can me that much darker than mere horror—movie mimicry.

Random notes:
—Oh, you know Editor Joe Pelone and I each snatched up one of those rare 12—inch singles… sweet, sweet rarities…
—Feel free to factor it into your own analysis, but neither Joe Pelone nor myself "blazed" or "toked" or "zonked" or whatever the kids are calling it these days. We just couldn't live with ourselves if we let our D.A.R.E. counselors down.
—Sleep in August, OM really soon. Promoter R5 productions is killing it… again!