Sleep - The Sciences (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Sciences (2018)

Third Man

When rumors of a new Sleep album began to circulate (their first new LP in 22 years, essentially) it looked like they were facing a no win situation. Their final album before their initial breakup, Dopesmoker, was recorded in 1996 and was so groundbreaking that it really took three stalled releases for it to manifest its proper form some seven years later. A single, hour long track, Dopesmoker was a landmark release that took almost a decade for people to appreciate. Never before had doom metal, or any genre really, been presented with such a sublimely heavy, sublimely trippy, and kind of funny, album that was as daring in execution as it was long. That is to say, not only did Dopesmoker serve as the mark that all doom metal was judged against, but no one seemed to be able to duplicate its heft and mind expansion in over two decades.

So, when Sleep reformed in 2009, the question was always hanging out there, “what the hell could they do for new material?” How the hell do you follow Dopesmoker. One option would be simply to record another hour long mindtrip, but to a degree, that seemed like a cop out. Sleep are true masters, no doubt, but a part of Dopemsoker’s magnificent surely had to do with time and fortune. You can’t duplicate that. Another option would be to record a another album in the style of their second LP Holy Mountain, a landmark doom metal in its own right due to its ability to capture and distill the true essence of the Iommic riff and spirit. But, that seems like a cop out. Holy Mountain has spawned thousands of imitators (not that Sleep were the first Sabbath worhsip band either, mind you) and for them to repeat that feat would seem to be even more uninspired. An third route would be to do something completely unexpected, following in the wake of Al Cisneros electronic dub releases or even Matt Pikes metal thrashing mad High on Fire. But, again, there’s the rub- if Sleep isn’t doing what Sleep does best, why do it at all?

Luckily, through a cloud of marijuana smoke and divine intervention, Sleep found a suitable route for their fourth album, The Sciences. Call it a meta release, perhaps, but whereas the second and third Sleep album found the band burning the essence of Sabbath to its purest form, here, the band seemingly does not ask “what would Sabbath do?” Rather, the band burns Sleep down into its purest form. That is to say, The Sciences is Sleep’s Sleepiest release to date and, thank God, there’s more to Sleep than its influences, and even its previous expansion upon its influences.

All of that is to say, in simplest terms, The Sciences finds Sleep applying the Dopemsoker texture to the Holy Mountain format. “Antarticans Thawed” breaks the fourteen minute mark, while two others break ten minutes while two others only make it to about six minutes. The tracks here are once again riff riders, with the band establishing a theme, and then building upon that theme with a gradually shifting and coloring, so that by a song’s apex, all you really hear is MASS. Like Dopesmoker, everything here is impossibly huge and loud. Matt Pike deftly conjures an earthquaking guitar sound that fills a room and trudges forward with a paradoxically forceful languidity. Al Cisneros bass alternates between supporting even more pounding to Pike’s mashing and contrasting the ocean wave crash with busier bass popping. New(ish) guy Jason Roeder (also of Neurosis) is no stranger to the huge and heavy and opts to keep the drums pulverizing and, perhaps more than his predecessors, more mechanical and rapid. The whole record feels like Pike and Cisneros pulling against Roeder which gives the record a true sense of urgency despite its glacial pace.

More so than ever, Cisneros refers to weed as tool for holy mental expansion. With tracks like “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and “Giza Butler” the band is fully aware of the sheer silliness of weed/metal culture. But, simply because Cisneros sounds like an astral monk traversing galaxies while emitting his om-ish prayers, the band is able to giggle at weed culture all while saluting the herb’s properties and perhaps spiritual capabilities. Play this kind of stuff too serious and you quickly descend into self parody, Play it all up for laughs and you basically undercut everything you’re doing. Sleep finds the middle ground and stays there. Perhaps because Sleep is able to throw a few “yuks” into this otherwise serious and reverent music is the reason that they ride so high above their contemporaries.

More than before, the band embraces a 60s sci-fi aesthetic. “Antarticans Thawed” is about ancient man set free upon the earth. (Also, how funny is that that on an album of only six actual songs at least two are reworkings of older tracks? Multiplicity is not Sleep’s domain, but, eh, so what?) “Marijuanaut’s Theme” is about an astronaut flying through space while toking and that is hilarious and very 2001: Space Odyssey.

The Sciences does not uproot Dopesmoker as Sleep’s defining release. But, what could? More importantly, though, The Sciences proves that Sleep has got the goods and no manner of years could pull the magic from the Pike-Cisneros connection. And more importantly than that, Sleep, when merely focusing on being Sleep instead of a being collection of influences, is able to produce work that is uniquely them, uniquely fresh, and frankly, inimitable.