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, California, by bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarists Matt Pike and Justin Marler, and drummer Chris Haikus, Sleep instantly drew comparisons to underappreciated '80s doomsters like the Obsessed, Pentagram, and especially Saint Vitus. Their sludgy 1991 debut was named Volume One in honor of their sonic godfathers Black Sabbath, but it wasn't until Marler's departure (reportedly to become a monk!) and the release of 1993's Sleep's Holy Mountain that their own unique doom metal vision truly began coming into focus. The album became a favorite of the heavy metal press, and Sleep were heralded alongside other promising retro-rocking groups like Kyuss and Monster Magnet as leaders of the newly emerging stoner rock/doom metal scene. Such was the buzz surrounding the group that, following a short European tour supporting first-generation doomsters Trouble and English hopefuls Cathedral, Sleep were reportedly offered an unprecedented six-figure deal by London Records. But instead of grabbing their chance at mainstream stardom for all it was worth, Sleep vowed to delve even deeper into their incredibly heavy and slothful sound instead.
After almost two years of writing and rewriting material for their next album (to be named Dopesmoker, not surprisingly) amidst abundant weed consumption, the trio finally delivered its long-awaited epic, now named Jerusalem, to London Records. But to the label's surprise, Jerusalem was comprised of a single 60-minute magnum opus to marijuana that the band refused to edit or split up into sections under any circumstances. A complete deadlock ensued, tying up both parties in red tape for another two years. Finally, having smoked their entire cash advance through their bongs, Sleep decided to break up rather than surrender the album. Guitarist Matt Pike went on to form a new, more energetic heavy metal band called High on Fire, while drummer Chris Haikus eventually reunited with founding guitarist (and now ordained monk) Justin Marler in the Sabians. In the meantime, an unauthorized version of Jerusalem was quietly released by Rise Above Records, but it wasn't until 2003 that a supposedly authentic and fully endorsed version of Dopesmoker finally reached record store shelves, seemingly bringing the convoluted Sleep saga to a close at last.
In 2009 the band reunited in the U.K. for two sets at that year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Reinvigorated, Sleep continued to hit the festival circuit, though without original drummer Chris Hakius, who left shortly after the ATP performances. Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder was more than happy to step in, and between 2010 and 2014 the group continued to play sporadically. In 2014 Sleep released "Clarity," a nearly ten-minute single, via Adult Swim's 2014 weekly singles series, their first new recorded output in 20 years. The track was reissued by Southern Lord in 2017. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia