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Dopesmoker

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Album Review

The saga of Sleep's Dopesmoker was already almost ten years in the making by the time of its belated release in 2003. Originally slated to follow closely behind their second album of a decade earlier, the landmark Sleep's Holy Mountain, it lingered in unreleased limbo instead — the subject of a vicious legal dispute between the Northern California trio and their record company, London, which refused to release Dopesmoker as delivered by the band — that is, a single, 60-minute-long song! The impasse eventually led to the stubborn band's ignominious dissolution circa 1997 rather than conform to the label's demands, leaving fans waiting for an album that most assumed would never be heard. But come 1999, an incomplete, disjointed version of the recordings was cobbled together and released by Rise Above Records with the title Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this version sounded oddly ragged in places, with senseless digital song divisions and an abrupt, obviously chopped-off ending; so for all intents and purposes, the ideal work as envisioned by Sleep clearly remained unrealized. Thankfully, all these glitches were finally corrected for the definitive, band-sanctioned 2003 edition of Dopesmoker, which bears a top-notch production job courtesy of Billy Anderson (Helios Creed, Natas, etc.) to boot. Revealed here at last, in all of its colossal glory, Dopesmoker is at once an instant doom metal classic — some might even say a masterpiece — as well as an impossibly dense, nearly impenetrable listening experience for unprepared fans (just to give you an idea, the first vocals only arrive 16 minutes in). Meticulously composed in the style of Gregorian chants as interpreted through the ears of Black Sabbath, "Dopesmoker" esoterically describes — get this — the "Weedian" people's pilgrimage to the "riff-filled land." But lyrics aside — and there are precious few here to justify stressing over them — what skeptical listeners must take into account here is that "Dopesmoker" is in fact a single song, not a series of song snippets stitched together progressive rock style. As such, this initially daunting edifice of snarling riffage requires quite a bit more patience and dedicated sampling before its secrets are unlocked and its riddles unraveled, but therein lies the crux of what is ultimately a very rewarding experience. And for Jerusalem owners still reticent to part with their hard-earned cash for this new and improved edition, Tee Pee Records has added a bonus treat in the form of a live recording of unreleased track "Sonic Titan."

Biography

Formed: 1990 in San Jose, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Perhaps the ultimate stoner rock band, Northern California trio Sleep had a career that wafted in and out of focus from within their self-mandated cloud of marijuana smoke. In their short time together, they issued some of the heaviest, most uncompromising doom metal albums ever recorded, leaving a legend far exceeding the actual volume of their output. Formed around the turn of the '90s in San Jose, CA, by bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarists Matt Pike and Justin Marler, and drummer Chris Haikus,...
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Dopesmoker, Sleep
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