Arise, arise, arise: Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’

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I’m incredibly tardy when it comes to checking out certain classic records, much to my shame, and none more glaringly so when it comes to Sleep’s ‘Jerusalem’, aka ‘Dopesmoker’. I’ve listened to ‘Sleep’s Holy Mountain’ countless times, but never got round to listening to the other biggie in their collection. Alas, the reissue of ‘Dopesmoker’ (Southern Lord, 2012) has at least allowed me to right this wrong. Hearing mere chunks, as I had before, is nothing on the full article. Why have one slice of pizza when you can have it all? 

Not content with having already created one classic album in ‘Holy Mountain’, Sleep were focused on creating their enormous opus in the midst of a furious bidding war for their services. London Records were the victors, preferred by Sleep as they assured ‘complete creative freedom’. This of course, completely unravelled after the A&R who championed them had left the company. Sleep worked on ‘Dopesmoker’ for four long years, only to be told by the label ‘we ain’t putting that out. How are we supposed to market that?’ Cue apoplexy as London got David Sardy to remix the album into a condensed series of radio edits at 52 minutes. Sleep refused to have the edited version released, London were still confused as what to do with their new version of the album, and eventually, Sleep disbanded in profound abhorrence at London’s refusal to see eye to eye with their vision. 

It feels like every man and dog has had their hands on the album since with several versions of the album, whether chopped into pieces as ‘Jerusalem’, or released as one great big serving as ‘Dopesmoker’. Tee Pee Records released what is considered to be the definite version in 2003, yet with Sleep now an active band again, with Jason Roeder of Neurosis taking Chris Hakius’ place behind the kit, the album was picked up recently by Southern Lord for a special 2012 vinyl rerelease, boasting of ‘clearer, louder’ audio and a ‘true representation of Sleep’s hour-plus Weedian chronicle’ (I wonder if Cisneros agrees with that statement?). Still, for someone previously oblivious to any previous rendition of it, the latest rerelease has been lovingly recrafted and captures every second of its selfish-stoned pride. That hypnotic opening riff. Cisneros’ drolling, booming chants. The indulgent solos. The very moment the words ‘Proceed the Weedian…Nazareth’ are uttered. 

Black Sabbath arguably created heavy metal, and no doubt bore its influence onto its various offshooting styles, including stoner metal. If Sabbath are the heavy metal masters, Sleep perfected stoner metal. Scores have ‘followed the smoke toward the riff filled land’ over the years, and that smoke is still billowing if you’re yet to pursue this venture. With a typically raw recording of the band playing ‘Holy Mountain’ at a 1994 show thrown in for good measure, and some quality new artwork from long-time collaborator Arik Roper, you’d be a fool, like I was for so long, to continue missing out on this certainly landmark work, or indeed simply to miss out on this loving rebirth.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Dopesmoker’ here (CD)
Vinyl and various packages available from Southern Lord here
(2 x LP included, US)

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One thought on “Arise, arise, arise: Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’

  1. Pingback: 2012 in Review: An Editorial « We Must Obey

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