As the other contributors of Hell of a Thing can attest, I’ve have been a fan of Metal for a long time. While I wouldn’t consider myself as intense a fan of the genre as I once was, I still hold a few metal bands near and dear. With that said, I was surprised to look through our past reviews and find no more than one piece on a metal band’s work. Okay, truthfully, this something I’ve been aware of for a minute, I’ve just been waiting for a heavy album to resonate. So this week marks that occasion, Hell of a Thing’s first big metal review.
Sleep is one of those aforementioned bands that I hold near and dear. Since first hearing their breakout LP, 1992’s Holy Mountain, they’ve remained one of my favorite bands no matter the genre. Part of the San Jose band’s draw was not only the colossal sound manifested between three members, but the aura of mystery that surrounded their work. By only releasing three stoner metal-defining albums before the initial 1998 breakup, Sleep also defined what it meant to have cult status. Fans have been plenty happy with the band touring only on old material since 2009. However, this last week (4/20, of course) Al Cisneros, Matt Pike, and Jason Roeder surprised that same cult fan base with a new record, The Sciences.
After fifteen years since their last full length, it’s clear the longer Sleep waited to put out new music, the more pressure there was going to be. there’s also a relevancy line the band rode too prior to The Sciences. After reforming in 2009, the band spent little-to-no effort getting back to the top of the metal scene; headlining festivals, and re-issuing old albums for new fans. That type of success is rare, and can only last for so long. From a business standpoint, if Sleep wanted to stay at the top, new material was well-needed to solidify their position. The Sciences couldn’t have dropped at a better point.
Musically, The Sciences is everything Sleep fans could want, myself included. Beginning with the title track, guitarist Matt Pike drones for three minutes as a palate cleanser; preparing listeners’ for the hour of fuzz riffs and stoner-inspired lyricism that ensues. The track that follows, Marijuanaut’s Theme, outlines a character found on all the band’s merchandise and promotional material; a bong-huffing spaceman. In music, stoner themes have become trite, but for Sleep, a group that started a whole sub-genre based on that principle, it’s welcomed greatly.
The next two tracks that follow, Sonic Titan and Antarticans Thawed, are interesting for similar reasons. The former has been a staple in the band’s live set since the mid-nineties. As fans know, a bootleg cut of it even appeared on the first re-release of Dopesmoker in 2003. A studio version of Sonic Titan on The Sciences is really an awesome thing, to hear a song that’s been in the works for over twenty years. The latter of the two tracks, Antarticans Thawed, has had the same effort put into it, being one of the only new songs the band played years prior to its studio release. These two tracks also follow in the tradition of lengthy song duration Sleep’s known for. They fit in agreeably with other epics like the title tracks from both Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker.
Like Mariuanaut’s Theme, the final two songs Giza Butler and The Botanist are new to audiences. The first, pokes fun at Sleep’s well-known fandom of metal pioneers Black Sabbath, but the title is the only humorous thing. Following a format more likely to come from one of, bassist, Al Cisneros’ side projects. The odd, yet driving time signature and dinosaur-lyrics are pummeling. The freely-structured final track, The Botanist, serves a righteous purpose in that it presents Sleep deconstructing their sound via jamming, similar to the end of their classic Dragonaut.
Front front to back, The Sciences is everything Sleep fans have hoped for and more. While the group nods at their past work, there’s maturity in their musicianship and absolutely no maturity in lyricism, rightfully so. It’s a testament to what makes stoner metal awesome, and challenges what it can do in the future. Who better to do an album like this than the guys that created the subgenre?
Click here to listen to Antarticans Thawed.
– By Mike Metcalf