Friday Full-Length: Sleep, Dopesmoker

Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)

In the annals of post-Sabbath riffing, Sleep‘s Dopesmoker reigns supreme. “Dopesmoker,” the single, 63-minute track that comprises the album, is the stuff of legend, and rightly so. Recorded circa 1996 by the trio of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Chris Hakius, and backed by the formidable, inimitable production of Billy AndersonDopesmoker is a story that’s been told time and again at this point, perhaps most completely in the 2008 documentary Such Hawks, Such Hounds, and so I’m not sure how much it really needs to be recounted here, but suffice it to say that the narrative behind the record’s creation has become nearly as central to the listening experience as the clarion riffing and the weedian pilgrimage that takes place in the lyrics of the extended verses, revolving around the Bay Area three-piece having issued the now-landmark Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here) in 1992 and subsequently jumped from Earache Records to London/Sire Records, spent their recording budget on reefer and turned in a 52-minute version of what became “Dopesmoker” to the label, only to be met with the kind of horror that only a major label can express to, say, an underground band who just turned in a 52-minute single-track album of unmatched stonerly excess. No doubt there were some priceless looks on a variety of the involved faces.

Then titled “Jerusalem,” that version of the extended piece did ultimately emerge — released first by the band as a self-bootleg with a cover by Arik Roper and then as Jerusalem by Rise Above Records in the UK and The Music Cartel in the US — in 1998, but with the song broken up over six shorter segments, the effect was nowhere near the same as when Dopesmoker saw its first issue — the track itself and a live version of “Sonic Titan” included — via Tee Pee in 2003. Sleep were long done by then, of course. Pike had moved on to High on Fire and Cisneros and Hakius were on the cusp of unveiling their new meditative duo Om, but one could easily argue that the arrival of Dopesmoker nonetheless played a significant role in igniting the heavy rock boom of the post-internet age. Finally with an avenue for the word of mouth regarding their righteousness that had long been spreading, Sleep were able to connect with an audience without even actually being a band anymore, and with Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the prior 1991 debut, Volume I behind them, their back catalog seemed like relics of a lost age of stoner authenticity — a source of influence worldwide already that has only continued to spread in the years since, bolstered in part by the emergence and ongoing relevance of Om and High on Fire, as well as the 2009 reunion of Sleep proper that has resulted in copious headlining and touring appearances as well as the release of the 2014 single The Clarity (review here), amid a contract dispute with Earache and near-constant rumors of a new full-length in progress on one level or another.

As for the song itself, “Dopesmoker” — which I’ve chosen to put here without the accompanying “Sonic Titan” — remains overwhelming in its scope. Its tonal thickness presents a morass from which Cisneros‘ guttural vocals rumble upward like some ancient call to arms, and when it comes to speaking to the converted, there are few lines short of “What is this that stands before me?” that have ever resonated as thoroughly as “Drop out of life, bong in hand.” Arriving after a solid eight minutes of hypnotic establishment of “Dopesmoker”‘s central riff, it is nearly impossible to measure the impact that single line has had on underground heavy rock. From there, “Dopesmoker” unfolds the tale of a journey rife with transcendentalist THC-ism, the setting a Zion that turns weed into an object of nigh-on-dogmatic ritualism, all the while Pike‘s riffing leads the way along a march punctuated by Hakius that’s no less epic than the lyrical thread. By the time they’re halfway through, their smoke-filled haze has become a churning universe unto itself, and then the guitar solo kicks in. About seven minutes later. Though often imitated at this point, the scale at which “Dopesmoker” works remains largely its own, and like any such monument, even those who’ve come along since to sound bigger or write something longer or whatever it might be invariably exist in its shadow. Its gospel ends with the stoned deliverance of the caravan and a return to the opening lines, but the riffing goes on for a few more minutes thereafter — as it should, pretty much into perpetuity. On repeat. Forever.

Southern Lord reissued Dopesmoker with new art by Arik Roper in 2012 and has gone on to do multiple pressings since in various vinyl and CD editions, so it is readily available for those who’ve yet to chase it down, but as one of the most essential heavy rock releases of all-time, I suspect a good amount of that is geared toward collector impulse rather than filling a gap, at least at this point. Either way, Dopesmoker has been and still represents a watershed moment of riffly creation. There will never be another one that hits in exactly the same way, from Sleep or anyone else, and even if that stems in part from the story of what went into its becoming, the result of that process — everything that went into its being — speaks to the core of one of the heaviest releases of all time. It resounds.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

What else could’ve possibly been heavy enough to close out the week that saw my son brought into the world?

Born at 8:09AM on Oct. 25, 2017, The Pecan came into this world after a plodding 41 hours of labor on the part of The Patient Mrs., whose water broke on Monday afternoon and who delivered the baby via C-section after grueling her way through on Wednesday morning. It was brutal, I don’t mind telling you. I write this post from the chair of the hospital room, my son cradled sleeping in my arms (every time I type with my left hand, his head moves a bit, but he doesn’t seem disturbed by it, which bodes well). We might get to get out of here this evening — Monday to Friday in the hospital has been long and The Patient Mrs. and I are both ready to go, I think — but otherwise it’ll be tomorrow, and then begins a round of family visits that I expect will continue through at least the next couple weeks. Already our mothers and sisters were hanging out in various waiting rooms for extended periods of time, attending his delayed arrival.

So, as for fatherhood: so far so good, I guess. Obviously nothing we’ve yet faced even holds a candle to anything to come pretty much as soon as we get out of here, but we’ve managed to keep him alive for two days, and I’m willing to take that as a win in the immediate. Last night was rougher than the first night, but after a couple hours of cluster-feeding, he slept for a solid four hours and so we did as well and I think that did us all a world of good. The Patient Mrs. is napping now with a pillow over her head. I went home for a bit yesterday and made myself some good coffee to bring back in my thermos, have been sipping that this morning, so we’re holding up. We’ve had talks about being in “survival mode” basically between now and next April — from here to Roadburn, is how we put it — and that seems like a reasonable timeline. We’ll see how it goes. We’re on an adventure.

You may have noticed the last two days were light on posts. Two per day still seems pretty good to me for a dude whose wife just had their first baby, so if you’re gonna complain about that, please don’t. There’s a lot of news to catch up on though, so I’m going to dedicate early next week to that and hopefully get into some early, soon-to-change pattern establishment for morning writing, etc. Here’s what’s in my notes for the week:

Mon.: News catchup, Lizardmen video premiere.
Tue.: SubRosa Subdued review; Operators video.
Wed.: Black Moon Circle review, whatever comes.
Thu.: Electric Wizard review, whatever comes.
Fri.: Fireball Ministry review, whatever comes.

That’s me catching up on reviews a bit as well, and it’s light on premieres on purpose to let me have some flex as I need to, so yeah, bottom line is it’s subject to change as always. Also more than always.

So there you have it. The Pecan has arrived. We’re in the midst of feeling things out, which I expect we will be for, you know, the next 20-odd years. Maybe more.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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7 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Sleep, Dopesmoker

  1. Mick says:


  2. Aron says:


  3. Rick says:

    Congrats to you and the Mrs.
    Welcome to the world, little guy. Sorry about the mess.

  4. Seanofthedead says:

    Congratulations on becoming a father! Please don’t abandon us to start a dad-rock website. On a side note, when I first heard Jerusalem back in the day I was convinced it was about the 3 wisemen bringing baby Jesus marajuana!!!!

  5. Obvious & Odious says:

    Yay Pecan! Congrats!

  6. jose humberto says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! Its awesome to be a father I have my little Alan now a five year old , and its ….. wow !!!!! a great companion !!! sometimes I feel like Homer Simpson and he is my Bart LOL .

    ok ok im starting to sob as im writting this

    congratulations !!!

    Dopesmoker its amazing I have Jerusalem as well , dont know how obssesive would be to buy the Tee Pee version too, but so far im happy with my two versions

    enjoy your baby

  7. Felica says:

    I actually don’t have an idea about what sleep dope smoker was. As I listened to
    it, it did not took me long as my ear couldn’t bear it. Going to be impossible
    for me to fall asleep.

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