Dopesmoker review by Sleep

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  • Released: Apr 22, 2003
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 8.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.1 (21 votes)
Sleep: Dopesmoker

Sound — 9
Aside from The Beach Boys' "Smile" or The Beatles' "Carnival of Light," this album consisting of one 63 minute long song might be one of music's most mythical creations. According to legend Sleep blew their entire advance from their record label on marijuana. They spent over $10,000 on amps and wasted much of their studio time stoned and finally created a song so long it had to be recorded in three parts on reel-to-reel tape. When they finally turned it into their label their label refused to release it, claiming it unmarketable. Created over a period of about 4 years and finally released after the band had broken up, this record was originally released as "Jerusalem" in 1999, but this was a rough mix released without the bands input and altered by the record company to try and make it more marketable, in 2003 it saw release as "Dopesmoker" in original form, then in 2012 Southern Lord Records, the label started by the guys from Sunn O))), reissued it on CD, 180 gram vinyl and even cassette with new cover art that captured the theme of the album much better than the original artwork and added a new live track as a bonus. The sound is a drone type of doom metal with chords sustaining for long periods of time and creating a rhythmic pulse, the best way to describe it would almost be like the waves in an ocean. This continues for about 2:30 minutes until the drums come in with a busy sound that contrasts the guitar work. For such a slow song there is quite alot going on in it. In between Al Cisneros' chant like lyrics are long instrumental sections with occasional trill filled solos from Matt Pike, over top of Chris Hakius' constant drumming, save for toward the end of the song where after a guitar solo it calms to a slow clean arpeggiated riff, the beginning of side C of the Southern Lord vinyl, about 40 minutes into the song. The only other songs on this version are one live track, two on the vinyl version, the audio quality of these is a little too bass heavy, but they are decent tracks that display the bands jam heavy live performance. My only complaint about this album is the production/recording of these live tracks.

Lyrics — 7
The lyrics are minimal as this is a mostly instrumental song, but the few lyrics it does contain describe a cannabis smoking caravan's trek through the middle eastern Holy Land with lyrics such as "Drop out of life with bong in hand," "Weed Priests" and "Follow the smoke toward the riff" leaving little to the imagination. Al Cisneros delivers a chant like vocal delivery that stretches out the words and complements the instrumentation well. Al Cisneros has always had a vocal style somewhere between Ozzy Osbourne and Wino from Saint Vitus, in other words the typical Doom/Stoner/Sludge metal vocal sound. But his vocals on Dopesmoker are very different from those on "Sleep's Holy Mountain."

Overall Impression — 10
Comparing this to Sleep's other work is difficult because it is so very different from "Sleep's Holy Mountain," and "Volume One" and "Two." The main thing I would compare this to is that it's kind of a frontrunner to what the band Sunn O))) does, which is probably why those guys had it reissued on their label. My only real complaint is the mix/production on the live track(s) which sounds like it was recorded on phone, it's listenable but I've heard better sound quality on YouTube bootlegs. The bass kind of takes over that song. If it were stolen I would definitely buy it again, I own this on both CD and vinyl and if either of them were stolen I would definitely have them replaced. There really isn't anything quite like this album and it's probably one of the heaviest things ever recorded.

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8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Its good to see this album finally get recognition. I can imagine the looks on the corporate record label heads when they had to sit through an hour of enchanting doom riffs. Of course they didn't get it. It is definitely ahead of its time.
    To be fair on some copies it came with a liveversion of Sonic Titan.
    The original Tee Pee CD had Sonic Titan as the live track but the Southern Lord CD has Holy Mountain, the Southern Lord Vinyl has both.
    Aside from the fact that there is a LOT of lyrics on this song which tells the story of the journey, this is a solid review. Doom on!
    Even years after I found Sleep I have yet to find anything that comes close to being anywhere near as heavy as this album. The only thing that kinda comes close to it is either Dopethrone or Come My Fanatics.... Out of everything Sleep has released I am only missing Vol.1 & 2 as well as the 2003 version of Dopesmoker that only has Sonic Titan on it as a bonus track. As much as I liked the 2012 reissue of this album I DID NOT like the bonus track of Holy Mountain live. If they just went with Sonic Titan and maybe put Antarcticans Thawed as a bonus after that I'd like it even more since Antarcticans Thawed was written during the Dopesmoker recording sessions.