Review: Sleep – Dopesmoker

A perfect classic is revisited in reissue release.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Let’s face it, when Sleep broke up it fucking sucked. Sure the ashes gave birth to the unstoppable force of High On Fire, but still, it really did suck. Sleep were more than just a band, they were a statement, a powerful chemistry fueled by copious amounts of weed and a love for slow, fuzzed out rock.

So often the birth of stonerrock is attributed to Kyuss and their album Sky Valley. While the Kyuss contribution is without question, Sleep’s Holy Mountain inspired just as many bands as Sky Valley. The Holy Mountain album created such a buzz that Sleep became poised to take over the rock world. Then, they did the unthinkable and followed up their epic album with….gasp…..a true artistic statement. Cue Dopesmoker, a musical idea that would become a legend as well as the reason Sleep called it a day.

Dopesmoker was a sixty three minute song. Understand what I’m saying here. It wasn’t an album where the songs ran into each other or a concept record connected by short skits or interstitials. Dopesmoker was one song that clocked in at over an hour. The intro guitar riff cruises for nearly three minutes before drums ever enter the picture. Vocals don’t come in for twenty five minutes. This was the definitive stonerrock record, the one made by and for people who were really, really high.  

When Sleep presented their opus to London Records, the label promptly snapped and forced the band back in the studio to edit Dopesmoker down.  Sleep cut ten minutes out, renamed it Jerusalem and tried again. No dice,  London Records shelved the album and dropped the band. The resulting pressure killed Sleep and one of the greatest forces in rock history was silenced.

After the break up three versions of Dopesmoker came out. There was the rare London Records promotional disc, a low end bootleg and a Rise Above/Music Cartel version. The band considered all of these versions unauthorized. In 2003 underground record label Tee Pee Records released the authorized version, which clocked in at the original sixty three minutes. The release allowed those who hadn’t bore witness to the greatness of Dopesmoker a chance to experience the album. It also opened the world of Sleep to a new generation of fans.

Jump ahead to 2012. The mighty Southern Lord label is about to drop the Dopesmoker bomb on all of us once more. Don’t worry, the original masterpiece produced by Billy Anderson hasn’t been changed only remastered by From Ashes Rise guitarist Brad Boatright. With a brighter, thicker and heavier sound, Dopesmoker also features new art from Arik Roper as well as a life-altering live version of the song Holy Mountain from 1994.

Some will ask, “Iann, why the hell would I buy a new copy of an old record”? First, most versions of Dopesmoker are either incredibly hard to find or out of print. Second, this new release sounds better. It’s bigger, angrier and brings out a lot of the nuances the other versions couldn’t capture. For those who love heavy rock, doom and thick, plodding metal that oozes over your soul like syrup left outside in the winter, prepare for rejoicing. Dopesmoker is the essence of the music you love. It’s the giant black monolith towering above and we are but monkeys beating bones at the base.