Friday, April 21, 2017

QUICK "HIT": Sleep - Dopesmoker


With yesterday being the ganja holiday that it is, I thought it would be high time to review arguably the most definitive stoner metal album of all time, Sleep's seminal hour long ode to haze, Jerusalem, more widely known for the remastered and lengthened single track version from five years later, Dopesmoker.  Now, right off the bat you're probably wondering why I didn't write this on 4/20 like any halfways logical human, well...

I tried.

You see, I don't smoke weed.  Never have, never really wanted to.  I don't really have a reason, I'm just not intrigued (I didn't drink until I was 23, I've played so much Final Fantasy over the years that I'm pretty sure I've somehow regained my virginity, I'm so square I'm practically cubical).  For that reason I just don't touch on stoner metal very often because I always felt like I just don't "get it".  Like, I understand what it is: it's super fuzzed out Sabbath worship based around hypnotic riffs and extreme repetition, with a newer breed of bands being less afraid to pick up the pace and introduce more punky and aggressive parts.  The problem is that I just don't have the capacity to listen to one super awesome riff for ten minutes on end, so a lot of the classic bands and hot new groups just do nothing for me.

So I had an idea.

I'll reach out to three close friends of mine, all of whom are very pro-stoner, but unlike me, are not metalheads.  There's the guy (I'll call Patt Mike), the girl (I'll call Biz Luckingham), and the guy/girl couple (I'll call Tittybong, because after two spoonerisms of prominent musicians in the style, customers demand a non-linear pricepoint.  Also because it's a real town in Australia and that always makes me laugh).  I figure that if stoner metal is a subgenre created by and for stoned headbangers, how can I trust them when they say it complements the high since they already like heavy and abrasive music?  This experiment should show factually whether Sleep is actually a great band or if it's just surrounded by an eternally skunky bukkake party.  I asked them all to listen to Dopesmoker and/or Sleep's Holy Mountain and I would just review whichever one(s) they chose.

And then, well, they all got stoned and forgot that I asked them to listen to it.

God fucking dammit.

So while I waited for them all to get back to me, I wrote down my own thoughts on Dopesmoker.  Honestly, it's pretty good.  It doesn't blow my mind or anything but in the realm of preposterously lengthy metal songs, it's certainly one of the better ones that doesn't fall under the funeral doom umbrella.  The ludicrously long and repetitive Sabbath riffs work well enough for what they are, and the droning, one-note vocals make the whole thing sound like this years long pilgrimage to Weed Mecca.  It's very weary and drawn out, clearly aiming to be hypnotic and transcendental, something meant for when you want to turn on, tune in, and drop out.  The band's very name is quite fitting, as there's this sluggish, sleepy quality surrounding the whole thing.  It's meant to be taken in as one whole experience, so the different sections all lead into each other very well and the track ebbs and flows like the tides.  It never picks up beyond a glacial paced groove, and I appreciate the band for just going all out with the idea here and not pussing out and making it sound like six distinct songs.  It's monumentally heavy and drowning in fuzz.  I chose this band/album for this celebration/experiment for exactly this reason.  It's the logical endpoint for the style.  It's diluted with absolutely nothing and just surrounds itself with a sulfuric fog and dies slowly, exactly how it was always meant to be.  The problem I have with it is that... well, it's really god damned hard for me to listen to attentively.  I've tried a couple times years ago, and by the time you reach the 8 minute mark and have heard effectively just one riff repeated twelve times, you just want to listen to the thing on fast forward and see if it's actually a real song slowed down to the point of incomprehension.  This time, however, I just had it on in the background while I chatted with my girlfriend and played games on my phone.  It worked much better this way.  It's inoffensive background noise that somehow gets better the less attention I give it.  Suddenly the repetition isn't bothersome, it's hypnotic.  The agonizingly deliberate progression goes by in a much more manageable pace, since each change is a welcome surprise instead of a "GOD DAMMIT FINALLY" moment.  The iconic opening lines of "Drop out of life with bong in hand / Follow the smoke towards the riff filled land" sound fucking monumental when they're first delivered, and when they're revisted near the one hour mark, it's actually extremely effective at tying it all together, it's just that I'd never be able to wait that full hour under normal circumstances.  Maybe this is why you need to be blazed to appreciate it, because I, as a sober person, find it to be drool inducingly boring when I'm paying attention to it, but find it to be a subtly brilliant piece of art when I'm not dedicating more than 50% of my mental faculties to it.

So with that in mind, now that it's a day later, let's see what Patt, Biz, and Tittybong had to say about it now that they've had extra time.

BIZ SEZ: Biz:[3:53pm] "I'm listening!"

BH [4:02pm] "Awesome!  Thank you!"

BH [6:14pm] "Thoughts?  Did it complement or harsh the high?  Was it awful?  Did it work well?  Did it sound like a dying pachyderm?"

Biz [10:11pm] "Honestly it was almost kind of soothing?  I fell asleep like halfway through, haha.  I really enjoyed it.  Lullaby metal [laughing emoji]"

Jeez Biz, I wake up at 4:30am for work, where were you hours ago?  Anyway that's 1-for-1, she liked it and it seemed to jive well with what she had going on.  Enough to put her to sleep for six hours at the very least, and it presumably wasn't out of boredom.  I'll count that as a win.

PATT SEZ: [3:03am] "Okay so my thoughts are this.  As a metal fan myself..."

FUCKING SHIT I FORGOT PATT LIKED METAL.  I mean, his taste is very eclectic and he's by no means a "metalhead", but he does like the odd band here and there.  He saw Black Sabbath on their farewell tour and I knew that.  So I ruined my own experiment, the whole idea was to get people who would never listen to this and see what they thought while baked.  Oh well, this'll have to do, I'll assume metal isn't one of his top five most listened to genres and soldier on as though we're still on track of the pure and untouched.  Back to it: 

"As a metal fan myself I did enjoy the songs, having never heard of the band before I was a blank slate. I started by taking one large hit and starting Holy Mountain. The intro was cool, the sound quality was a little off for me, but remember I have one deaf ear so Everything I hear is a little off. The guitars were scratchier than I would have liked for being stoned.  After another two hits I got more into the general sound of the track. I then started Dopesmoker and lit my road joint once more for the drive home. From Chicago to [MYSTERY TOWN] I was guided by their dramatic rifts and melodic drumming, I definitely was able to tune out the world, listen to the music and drive. As a stoner I might not have this as a first go to, but if it came on I would surely enjoy it. Digging through more of their work on Spotify I found myself enjoying "Evil Gypsy/Solomon's Theme" much more, I replayed that at least twice while smoking. If I had to offer a numerical value I'd say while stoned 5 1/2 out of 10. Not the worst, but wouldn't be a go to for me, but did enjoy the listen. Thank you and have a pleasant flight."

So Patt was much more mixed.  He's the only one who listened to Sleep's Holy Mountain as well, and it seems like he liked that one less than Dopesmoker.   SHM is certainly a bit more riffy on the whole so maybe the more frantic pacing had something to do with it?  Either way it looks like Dopesmoker is a hit so far.  The overall score is pretty middling and he admit that he wouldn't reach for it on his own, but enjoying it during a session is something he could see happening, and that's really what I wanted to know throughout this experiment.  Big thanks to him for the detailed response!




Nothing!  Tittybong never got back to me.  The female half of the collective did inform me she'd be working until later, in fairness, but she said she'd grab her boyfriend afterwards and give it a whirl since they had no real plans for the night.  Now it's afternoon the next day with no word and I didn't pester them about it, so I'm going to be forced to assume that they either tried listening and hated it so much that they didn't want to report back, they simply had no desire to actually do it and didn't have the heart to tell me, or they just plain ass forgot and won't remember until I post this.  I did tell all three participants that I wouldn't be upset if they didn't have time or just didn't want to listen to it, so I'm not upset, but there ya go.  Three very different perspectives from three very different people who have nothing in common besides liking weed, not listening to metal, and being unfortunate enough to be real-life friends with me.


So there we have it.  Sleep is, scientifically, irrefutably, a thing.  Happy 4/21 Special!

EDIT 4/22: Tittybong finally texted me back.  Official word is "FYI metal still sucks/  Although, Sleep puts you in one of those trances.  I have to admit I listened for a solid minute before I realized I was listening to metal music and turned it off.  You've got to be PRETTY stoned to forget you hate metal music."

So there we NOW have it.  Sleep is still scientifically, irrefutaby, a thing.

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