Friday Full-Length: Various Artists, Burn One Up: Music for Stoners

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Various Artists, Burn One Up: Music for Stoners (1997)

21 years ago, Roadrunner Records gathered together 15 bands on one compact disc, slapped a picture of an 18-wheeler truck in the desert on the front of it, and called it Burn One Up: Music for Stoners. It’s not easy to find a copy of it these days — I looked for a while before finally getting it in London in 2010 — but with bands like Queen of the Stone Age, Karma to Burn, Sleep, The Heads, Cathedral and Fu Manchu on board, it’s worth the search. Dig the full tracklisting:

1. Queens of the Stone Age, 18 A.D.
2. Karma to Burn, Ma Petit Mort
3. Fu Manchu, Asphalt Risin’
4. The Heads, GNU
5. Spiritual Beggars, Monster Astronauts
6. Floodgate, Feel You Burn
7. Slaprocket, Holy Mother Sunshine
8. Leadfoot, Soul Full of Lies
9. Celestial Season, Wallaroo
10. Cathedral, You Know
11. Acrimony, Bud Song
12. Blind Dog, Lose
13. Sleep, Aquarian
14. Hideous Sun Demons, Icarus Dream
15. Beaver, Green

It’s easy to argue that, as far as “stoner rock” goes, these are some of the bands who would most shape it. Yeah, Slaprocket never got an album out, but the New Jersey-based outfit divided into Solace and The Atomic Bitchwax, and both of them continue to make their mark to this day. Europe is represented through Dutch outfits Celestial Season, Hideous Sun Demons and Beaver, Sweden’s Spiritual Beggars and Blind Dog, and the UK shows off some of its best in The Heads, Cathedral and Acrimony. The aforementioned Slaprocket speak for the Northeast, while Floodgate hail from Louisiana, Karma to Burn from West Virginia and Leadfoot from North Carolina, so the Southeast is accounted for as well.

And of course we wouldn’t even be talking about the genre if it weren’t for California, which brings Fu Manchu, Sleep and an early incarnation of Josh Homme‘s then-new, on-the-rebound-from-Kyuss outfit, Queens of the Stone Age, which featured a frontman known only as “The Kid”. That’s a particular point of fascination unto itself, but with a first-album-era vocalized Karma to Burn as well and an off-album track from Cathedral, there’s plenty of fodder to make Burn One Up worth seeking for anyone who’d do so, but while the comp wouldn’t serve as a debut for Cathedral, or Celestial Season — who followed a similar path from doom to stoner rock and didn’t stick around long enough to make the turn back before reuniting in 2011 — or Acrimony or Sleep, etc., it’s still amazing to look at it and think of the legacy many of these bands cast. Shit, Sleep just put out their first record in 15 years and took over the world. Would instrumental heavy rock be where it is today without Karma to Burn? And Slaprocket through their already noted ties and Floodgate‘s vocalist, Kyle Thomas (also Exhorder) is currently fronting a little band called Troublem so you know, not exactly minor shakes there.

Blind Dog put out two records through MeteorCity before splitting up, closers Beaver would soon have a split out with openers Queens of the Stone Age via Man’s Ruin Records, and this would be the final appearance for Hideous Sun Demons, who released their only album, Twisted, in 1995. Spiritual Beggars gave an early look at their third album 1998’s Mantra III, with “Monster Astronauts,” while The Heads showcased how far out aural weedism could go with “GNU,” inarguably the trippiest cut on the release.

And The Heads are just one of the several bands who continue to make an impact. Fu Manchu. QOTSA. Karma to Burn. Sleep. Spiritual Beggars. One could argue the only dude missing here is Wino, and he would’ve been coming off The Obsessed and just getting going with Shine — later Spirit Caravan — so that could just as easily be a question of timing as anything else. Okay, maybe a bit of Orange Goblin and Electric Wizard would’ve been cool. You can’t have everything.

As with most compilations, the sound is somewhat disjointed, as the material was recorded by different players in different studios often enough in different countries, but Burn One Up gives an amazing summary of where the genre was in the wake of Kyuss‘ breakup and as it looked forward to developing in the 21st century into the multi-headed beast it is now. You can hear the crunching influence of grunge in Beaver, Floodgate and Slaprocket, but clearly these bands and the rest were on their own wavelength already, and whether new or old, whether they went on to lead the aesthetic or folded soon after — that reminds me, I need to break out those old Leadfoot discs — Burn One Up: Music for Stoners shows an admirable prescience in its picks and is a true piece of treasure for anyone who’d seek it out in its summary of what heavy rock and roll was at the time and what it would go on to be.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Went to bed last night around 8PM. I’d been up since one in the morning, so somehow it made sense, plus The Patient Mrs. was having trouble getting The Pecan to go to sleep and she had half a cocktail to finish, so it seemed only fair to tag in. I’d woken up early on account of said Pecan as well, his sort of nighttime mumblings varying between actual fuss, crying and a kind of sleepy coo, and decided to spend the extra hours organizing stuff on my new laptop, which I’ve dubbed The Silver Fox. Because it’s silver, you see. Yes, we’re all very clever over here.

Anyhoozle, kind of another rough night with the baby last night had me up at three. He was in the bed — something I swore up and down I wouldn’t let happen and then of course did — and had rolled toward me in such a way that I was against the wall pretty much pinned. By a kid who, at seven months, weighs about 18.5 pounds. Life does funny things to you. I woke up, enjoyed the snuggle-time for a bit, and then got up to work on the above post. Circa 5:30, The Patient Mrs. came out of the bedroom carrying the again-complaining baby — whose diaper I’d already changed at some point — and kind of at a loss for what to do. I went back to bed with both of them and sort of rocked him while standing up, a gentle bounce with his head on my shoulder and swayed back and forth until he was falling asleep, then got into bed while holding him basically the same way and he went out. We all caught a solid two hours of rest in that position and it’s early yet to call it (a little after 8 as I type this), but I think that might be the difference-maker on the day.

We’ll get in the car soon enough and head south from Connecticut, where we drove to yesterday for two magical hours of screaming-baby-in-the-car fun, to New Jersey, where once again we’re basically setting up shop for the summer. We’ll be back and forth between there and CT to hit the beach probably on weekends and/or various other times, and there’s still stuff that will need tending to in Massachusetts — The Patient Mrs.’ work commitments and the like — but it’ll be a lot of good family time over the summer with my people and her people and I’m looking forward to being in the New York area for probably the greatest amount of time in the half-decade since we moved away.

Around here, things will likely proceed as normal, if there is such a thing. Notes for next week look like this currently, but these things can and do change as you well know by now:

Mon: Demande a la Poussiere review/track premiere; Dust Lovers video premiere maybe.
Tue. Oresund Space collective review; Kal-El live video.
Wed. Orange Goblin review.
Thu.: Currently open. Maybe Astrosoniq review.
Fri.: King Heavy review/album stream.

Plus plenty of news and whatever else happens my way.

Ups and downs this week as ever, but I’m getting through. That’s the story from here.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and stick around as there’s more good stuff to come. All the best. Forum and Radio.

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Just in Case You Thought You Heard All the New Sleep, There’s More New Sleep

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sleep

So in case you didn’t feel the universe caving in on itself at the time, it’s now been nearly two months since Sleep released The Sciences (review here), their first album in 15 years and first since getting back together to play shows starting in 2009. Dropped with mere hours of notice beforehand, it was an event that for many will define the soundscape of 2018, not just for the sheer existence of the record as something that was rumored for so long and finally realized, but for the quality of the material itself, songs like “Sonic Titan,” “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Giza Butler” providing all the march to the riff-filled land Sleep‘s generations-spanning audience could hope for while at last giving representation to the band as they are today, both in the lineup of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and drummer Jason Roeder, and in terms of their actual sound.

About two weeks ago, Sleep offered something of another shocker — a new track called Leagues Beneath — through the ongoing Adult Swim Singles Program. A bit of symmetry there, since that’s how Sleep issued their first post-reunion studio recording in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here), which was also a surprise when it came out, but 16 more new minutes of Sleep just the same. It doesn’t seem outlandish to imagine it was recorded during the same sessions as The Sciences — though I suppose Sleep could’ve gotten together at some point since the album was done and put it to tape; anything’s possible — and though its arrival might be seen as anticlimactic in comparison to the full-length LP, if you’re the type of person to complain about things like all that new music Sleep are putting out simply being too much to bear, you should probably sit down and take an honest look at your perspective on life. I’m just trying to help. I’m your friend out here.

Okay, so “Leagues Beneath” itself. 16:45 of hypnotic groove, pickled-liver tone and pointedly Iommic worship. Pretty much what you get on The Sciences, right down to the sense of PikeCisneros and Roeder playing together in a room riding the warbles from their speaker cabinets. It’s five minutes before Cisneros‘ vocals kick in, and when they do, it’s kind of a reminder that there are humans at work behind the proceedings at all, let alone a songwriting process. At 53 minutes, The Sciences is a pretty air-tight 2LP. It doesn’t overstay its welcome — would be a challenge — and at the same time, it offers a far-out glimpse at stonerized space as seen through the eyes of the band. “Leagues Beneath,” as its lumbering forward motion continues, is held together by its drums and seems to range even further. Including it would’ve pushed the album over 70 minutes long, and even Dopesmoker (discussed here) was only 63, so I get why they left it off. It has a flow of its own as it veers into pulled-string weirdness after 10 minutes in and swirls forward its multi-layered lead before hitting minute 12 and embarking from there on its drifting finish, and as much as the material on The Sciences is fluid one song into the next, “Leagues Beneath” stands on its own. In other words, it makes a fitting single.

When Sleep put out The Clarity, it was a little while before vinyl surfaced, so I have to wonder if they’ll do a physical pressing of Leagues Beneath at some point — this is me casting my vote for a live version of “Giza Butler” as a B-side unless there’s yet more unheard studio stuff sitting around; by the way, I don’t get a vote — but for now it’s available digitally through Adult Swim and streaming on the usual webular haunts, and I’ve included it for the purposes of instant gratification. I’m sure you’ve already heard it, but somehow I doubt a revisit is going to bring many complaints.

Dig:

Sleep, “Leagues Beneath”

Listen to a new song by metal behemoth Sleep, courtesy of Adult Swim Singles. Available now @ http://adultswim.com/singles.

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Friday Full-Length: Massive Gratitude and Some New Sleep for the Hell of It

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I try to say thank you as often as I can on here. I really do. I’ve considered getting a ‘thanks for reading’ tattoo. Maybe for the 10th anniversary. Anyhow, this week, you’ve really saved my ass, and I don’t even know how to start showing my appreciation.

If you didn’t read the Elephant Tree live review yesterday or haven’t seen on the social medias, I’ve been in England this week with my wife, who along with another professor is leading a study abroad trip for some of her undergrad and graduate students. The three of us were staying in a house in Canterbury earlier this week, and overnight on Tuesday the place was robbed — or “burgled” as Constable Toby put it the next morning — while we slept in the bedrooms upstairs.

Well, first off, nobody got hurt. Nobody’s passport was taken. The baby didn’t even wake up. It could’ve been much worse.

Along with some other stuff, they took my laptop Big Red, camera, lenses and backpack, all of which was set up on the kitchen table so I could come downstairs early in the morning Wednesday and start to write. When the alarm went off at 5AM — a luxury for being away; usually it’s 4:30 these days — I found the door was wide open and the kitchen table had been cleaned off.

I lost stuff. Stuff can be replaced. Even my laptop and camera, which, as I’ve said, were by a wide margin the two nicest pieces of stuff I owned.

What really hurt was the years of writing on Big Red and my notes for The Obelisk. Upcoming releases, ongoing best of the year lists, Quarterly Review slots, and a calendar of upcoming premieres. Now I don’t even know what I’m reviewing on Monday. I know I’ve got commitments to host things into June and I just have no idea what they are. Online backups? Nope. Why would I need those? What, am I gonna get robbed?

Plus the years’ worth of past writings. A half decade or so of bios, press releases, my own personal stuff. That collection of Star Trek-themed poetry I was never going to finish. All that. And the music. The music on my desktop alone — new records from YOB, the Sleep album above, so many others I can’t even remember. I’ll get a new computer. But that other stuff I’ll never get back. It’s just gone.

Within hours, I couldn’t even hang my head. Scott Harrington, a friend at this point for more than a decade and the dude whose passion drives Salt of the Earth Records, sent a text and asked if he could set up a GoFundMe.

I’m not comfortable asking for money. I’m not comfortable handling money. But the fact of the matter is I’m a homemaker. I don’t work except to take care of the house and the baby and therefore I’m in a much different financial position than I was in when I purchased these things.

Scott set up a GoFundMe for $3,000, which would be enough to cover most of what I lost. It would get me a new laptop of some color — red, green, blue, banana yellow (?), whatever — a comparable camera and pay for part of the cost of a professional-grade lens like the one I had.

By the time it was Wednesday night here in the UK, as I was using a camera loaned to me by one of my wife’s students to take pictures and banging my head to Elephant Tree’s “Aphotic Blues” — maybe if I get a blue laptop I’ll name it ‘Aphotic Blue’ — the $3,000 goal was met and surpassed. Here’s where it’s at currently:

Over $4,000. More than a third beyond the original goal. I don’t even know what to say. It’s fucking insane. All of a sudden I’m looking at the Canon 5D Mark IV as a real possibility of something I can bring into my life. It’s something I never expected, and I’m absolutely floored and humbled and just given this incredible sense of warmth from the support I’ve received and all the kind words people have said about me, and this site, and everything. It’s been two days now. I still can’t get my head around it. Does not compute.

From the deepest part of me, thank you. The money’s gonna help, make no mistake, but the feeling of community, of belonging, and of being appreciated has been so incredibly validating that I’m astounded. Astounded and touched and, yeah, just made to feel like something I’ve done has mattered to somebody. It makes me want to be a better person, to be better at this, and it’s utterly renewed my faith in this project as a whole, which if I’m honest wasn’t exactly lagging but could only benefit from a kick in the pants.

So once again, thank you. The only thing I could think to do was close out the week by saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’d put the notes here for what’s coming up next week, but again, I haven’t got a clue. I know at some point I was supposed to do something with Saturno Grooves and I think maybe review the new Graveyard (which, whoops, was on Big Red), and maybe a House of Broken Promises video premiere? I honestly don’t know. I’ll be seeing Colour Haze on Tuesday night, so will hope to have a review of that up Wednesday. I also travel back to the US on Wednesday, so might take Thursday off? I’m going to play it by ear a little bit and see what surfaces.

But in the meantime, thank you once again for your incredible support, whether you’ve made a donation or just shared the link, it’s huge for me. Genuinely life-changing. I will aspire to live up to the faith shown in me.

Oh, and I put a YouTube playlist with the new Sleep at the top of the post because if my gratitude was a new record, that’s the one it would be, and on the off-chance you haven’t heard it yet, you really should. I reserve the right to close out a week with a proper discussion of it again sometime probably years down the line. If you’d like to read the review of it, it’s here.

For not at all the last time, thank you. I promise something will be up Monday one way or the other.

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Sleep, The Sciences: The Pterodactyl Flies Again

Posted in Reviews on May 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sleep the sciences

In their absence between 1998 and 2009, Sleep became the stuff of legend. The stoner metallers were unquestionably ahead of their time in 1993’s genre-defining Sleep’s Holy Mountain (reissue review here), but it was the 2003 release of Dopesmoker (discussed here) through Tee Pee Records that seemed to solidify them as objects of reverence. Previously issued through The Music Cartel in an edited form as Jerusalem (and before that, self-bootlegged by the band), the narrative behind the release of Sleep inking a deal with London Records only to take the money from their recording budget, blow it on weed, and then essentially turn in an album unreleasable to a mass market is well documented and has become one of the great tall tales of underground heavy.

This, coupled with the success bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros went on to find in the then-duo-now-trio Om and guitarist Matt Pike likewise achieved fronting the more aggressive High on Fire, only increased Sleep‘s profile, and when Cisneros and Pike reformed the band with NeurosisJason Roeder on drums and began playing shows again in 2009, the speculation of new studio material was immediate and nearly as deafening as the volume of the riffs emanating from the stage. Sleep had gone from a cult footnote in the Earache Records catalog to headlining festivals and tours, and with their unabashed worship of Black Sabbath, weedian mythologies and massive influence, they became a genuine guiding force for a new generation of bands and fans alike. The last decade of heavy simply would not be the same had they not reformed, and as their first studio full-length in 15 years, the six-track The Sciences is all the more a landmark in one of the genre’s most storied and pivotal careers.

Is there any way The Sciences isn’t the biggest heavy underground release of 2018? Look at the sheer circumstances of its arrival. On April 19, word was put out in morse code that the next day Sleep would release an album. Bam. There was no advance press, no track premieres through NPR or Rolling Stone or other major outlets with smirking treatises on the group’s importance, no months-long agony of trickled out information: the tracklisting in one press release, the artwork in another, a teaser video, etc. It simply wasn’t there and then it was. How many heavy bands could get away with that and expect any kind of response? Sleep dropped a record like Beyonce drops records, and it absolutely worked. Issued through Jack White‘s Third Man Records, The Sciences dominated the high holiday of stoner idolatry, and while any release of this magnitude is bound to have detractors as well as proponents, it’s a basic truth regardless that for many listeners, this year will be defined by Sleep‘s 53-minute march to the riff-filled land. Rightly so.

There are a host of higher-profile offerings still to come in the next several months, from groups like Graveyard (who return after a much shorter hiatus), ConanClutchAncestorsYOBAll Them Witches and so on, but none of them orany of the others as yet announced will show up after a 15-year absence, and none will be released with the same kind of break-the-internet anti-fanfare fanfare as The Sciences, which it should be noted isn’t the first studio output Sleep have had since their reformation. In 2014, they had the lone track The Clarity (review here) as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series, and though it’s been four years, that would prove to be a crucial lead-in for The Sciences in preparing the audience and laying the groundwork for the album’s overall sound. The single was recorded by Roeder‘s Neurosis bandmate Noah Landis, and the LP is likewise — cover design by former Neurosis visual specialist Josh Graham is another line between the bands — and the style is consistent between the two. The Sciences works because it does not try to pretend the last 20-25 years didn’t happen. It doesn’t try to rewrite Dopesmoker. It doesn’t try to rewrite Sleep’s Holy Mountain or their preceding 1991 debut, Volume One.

In “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and “Giza Butler,” it embraces the same weed-and-riff-worship/Tony Iommi-as-deity (anyone remember that t-shirt?) mythology that Dopesmoker was essential in creating — “Marijuanaut’s Theme” has “planet Iommia” and an “Iommosphere” in its lyrics while “Giza Butler” speaks of an “Iommic Pentacost,” and riffs and weed, well, are just about everywhere lyrics are — but The Sciences is an honest look at Sleep in 2018. They know who they are as a band, they’ve crafted this aesthetic on stage over the last nine years, and rather than ignoring Pike‘s work in High on Fire or Cisneros‘ in Om or even Roeder‘s in Neurosis, the offering to the holy trinity of riffs, weed, and Black Sabbath presents its addled adorations in tales of blown-out space travels, reborn Antarctic legions set free from icecap prisons (based on a true story, from what I’m told), and a homeless guy living under a bridge getting stoned (ditto).

All of this arrives amid groove that somehow remains inimitable despite the fact that an entire generation of bands has and continues on a daily basis to directly emulate it. The nod isn’t immediate, as the opening title-track is three minutes of layered amp noise and feedback in a filthy-sounding but appropriate beginning to what follows, a church organ at the end and volume swell cutting sharply to the sound of a bong being hit and then the first crash of “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” which quickly establishes the thickness of tone, the rhythm and the distinct patterning and melodic delivery in Cisneros‘ vocals that will remain consistent throughout The Sciences and tie its songs together despite variations in theme and tempo.

At 6:39, “Marijuanaut’s Theme” is the shortest of the non-instrumental material — closer “The Botanist” is just a bit shorter and “The Sciences” itself, as the intro, is the shortest — but its position after the hypnotic feedback of the title-cut is pivotal in leading the way into the trio of “Sonic Titan,” “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Giza Butler,” all of which top 10 minutes and comprise the heart of the record, showcasing Pike‘s penchant for wild soloing has he layers across the right and left channels in Iommian tradition and the stoned serenity of Cisneros‘ vocals, which deliver “Sonic Titan”‘s only lines, “Look unto Zion though it can’t be seen/Man in the moon cannot help me see,” twice — and that’s it — after unfolding an entire narrative for “Marijuanaut’s Theme.”

sleep

It’s worth noting that those lyrics have changed since a live-in-studio version of “Sonic Titan” appeared as a bonus track for the ’03 Dopesmoker release, and though he doesn’t really there, Cisneros plays the role of storyteller again in “Antarcticans Thawed” — which has also featured for years as part of live shows — and “Giza Butler,” crafting clever weed puns and twice referencing the “rifftree”; one imagines a sort of THC-laced yggdrasil dripping hash oil like maple sap. The characters in these songs — the Marijuanaut, the Antarcticans, and the guy living under the bridge on his “milk crate throne” who is presumably Giza Butler himself — make The Sciences a richer listening experience and deepen Sleep‘s overarching process of world-creation. Like any good science fiction, they’re setting the rules of their own universe, and it’s one of tonal depth and narrative arc alike. The Marijuanaut blasts to Planet Iommia; the Antarcticans board a skyship and sail off to parts unknown thereupon; Giza Butler smokes an ounce a day.

As much as Sleep are about what they’re about — see “riffs, weed and Black Sabbath” above; these may well be the sciences to which the title re(e)fers — there is a pervasive sense of craft in these tracks. They came together over a period of years and they sound like it. They are not haphazard or sloppy either in construction or execution, and even as “Sonic Titan” marches to its lyrics at about the halfway point and then riffs-out hypnotic before a madness of shredding soloing takes hold after 11 minutes into its total 12:26 and they cap with one of the record’s best nods, the plotted progression makes sense both on its own and leading into the opening riff of “Antarcticans Thawed.”

Spending its first two minutes on a linear build toward the first verse, “Antarcticans Thawed” again demonstrates the consciousness at work behind The Sciences, and as the longest inclusion at 14:23, the mid-paced plodder plays a special role in setting and maintaining the smoke-filled vibe. A somewhat more shouted vocal from Cisneros tops Pike‘s relatively languid central riff and the ride/crash work of Roeder, who has long not only done justice to the work of original Sleep drummer Chris Hakius, but also brought his own stamp to the material. He shines here, and if the album were to accomplish nothing else, it would still be worth making for getting the trio in this form on tape for more than just a single. As “Antarcticans Thawed” presses forth, it seems to get slower and slower until the Antarcticans sail off on the windship and Pike marks the occasion with a highlight solo. The central riff resumes and after a last verse, Roeder moves to a snare progression as the song gradually deconstructs itself in the guitar and bass, fading to silence ahead of the languid start of the 10-minute “Giza Butler,” which lasts for about the first two minutes before the chugging riff starts the verse and Cisneros begins his tale of the “shopping cart chariot” and the “rifftual commenc[ing] around the tree stump altar.”

There’s obviously humor at work here, but Sleep aren’t making fun so much as preaching to a converted who once took the advice “drop out of life with bong in hand” to heart. “Giza Butler” boasts the album’s standout lyric: “The pterodactyl flies again/Over emerald fields,” and a companion riff that makes it seem like a realistic possibility leading to the apparent summary of the entire point of view in the lines, “Marijuana is his light and his salvation/Harvest sustains the altitude within/Ends the rationing/Hocks the Ohaus Triple Beam,” as the central character gets rid of his scale and, seemingly, smokes the entire harvest. As “Giza Butler” stomps through its instrumental finish and lands after seven minutes into a highlight riff for the record as a whole, one might say Sleep are doing the same thing all throughout The Sciences. They’ve hocked the scale, gone all-in, and smoked the entire planet’s worth of weed in ritualistic fashion and in one sitting. The aforementioned leads and groove cap “Giza Butler” in an apex that could easily go another five or six minutes and not meet with any complaints, and residual noise gives way to the closing instrumental lumber of “The Botanist.”

A final nod to nod itself, it mellows out after a minute in and picks up with a relatively subdued solo — I saw someone on the social medias call it Matt Pike‘s “Maggot Brain”; not quite, but it’s choice work — before feedback seems to end and Roeder‘s drums restart at 4:16 to add an epilogue to the proceedings. The jam that ensues for the last two minutes of “The Botanist” is laced with noise and sounds improvised over that drum movement, and if it is off the cuff, all the better to leave on a moment of spontaneity on a full-length at least 15 years in the making. It shows that even after the distances traveled in these songs, there’s still a creative spark in Sleep. Who knows? Maybe they’ll do another record.

I won’t take away from the band’s past accomplishments. I refuse to. Sleep’s Holy Mountain is arguable as the greatest achievement in riff-led heavy outside of Black Sabbath‘s original lineup, and in both its legend and its over-the-top, barely-listenable course, Dopesmoker stands on a level of its own in power, concept, delivery and influence. However, The Sciences stands as the most sonically cohesive record Sleep have ever made. It’s the output of a band who know exactly what they want their material to do, how to make it do that thing and how to capture that process in the studio. It’s new Sleep, taking the lessons of the old and bringing them into a more modern context.

For a whole generation of their fanbase, The Sciences will serve as something like a new debut, and for older fans who were able to get into The Clarity or have seen them live since they got back together, it may or may not top what once was, but neither has it had 25 years of deification around it. Give it some time. The songs are memorable, the sound impressively weighted, and it’s got riffs, weed and Sabbath. There’s nothing more one could possibly ask of a Sleep record that The Sciences doesn’t bring to the table, and it’s an easy contender for album of the year. For many, it already was before they even listened.

Sleep, “Giza Butler”

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Friday Full-Length: Sleep, Dopesmoker

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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Desert Survival: How to Do Psycho Las Vegas on a Budget

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

psycho las vegas 2017 banner

Hey, if you’re going to go broke, let’s face it: You’re not likely to run into many causes as worthy as the lineup culled together for Psycho Las Vegas. It ain’t cheap — any event that advertises a payment plan obviously knows it’s a considerable ask — but whether you’re going to see Slo Burn for their only US gig or King Diamond doing Abigail or Mulatu Astatke because going to see Mulatu Astatke is a life-event, the arguments in favor are plentiful and convincing. Whatever else you want to say, Psycho Las Vegas is the first annually-held American festival with a focus on heavy and underground rock to really establish itself as world class.

That in itself is a reason to support the cause, whether it’s through a day ticket or a pass for the entire weekend, but it doesn’t necessarily lesson the expense of making the trip or staying in one of the US’ most lucrative tourist traps, let alone things like band merchandise, meals and the occasional adult beverage if you’re inclined to have one. The thought of seeing NeurosisSleep and Carcass share a stage over the course of a weekend or watching Conan, the new trio-incarnation of Pentagram and Yawning Man poolside or from the balcony of a room in the Casino Tower is incredible, and after hearing stories from those who undertook the journey in 2016 or attended the prior Psycho California in 2015, the idea wants nothing for appeal. Fiscal issues can be a bummer. By the time August rolls around, I’ll have been out of paid work for two months. I know how it goes.

And I’m hardly the most responsible person when it comes to money, but the truth of the matter is there are ways to mitigate costs for travel, lodging and other concerns, and if the thing preventing you from picking up a ticket to the show has been the seeming impossibility of affording a stay at the Hard Rock or of finding a cheap-enough flight to get there, maybe it’s worth trying to shift finances around to make it happen. Music is important, and when debt collectors are spamming your phone it’s hard to think about the non-cash value of life experiences, but the fact is the bills you need to pay will still be there. The bill with Corrosion of Conformity in a lineup alongside Kylesa‘s Laura Pleasants, Domkraft, Swans, Elephant Tree and Heavy Temple? Much less so.

Here are a few pointers that hopefully can save you a couple bucks. Some of it’s day-one stuff, but things like hotel picks and transportation nuances are good to know either way.

Check it out:

psycho-las-vegas-2017-poster

Flying In
• Buy tickets on a Tuesday for the cheapest rates.
• Use a discount flight search.
• If you can, fly in on Thursday and leave on Monday for better rates, search different days and times to come in and leave.
• Book early. Rates go up in the summer.

Getting There
• Ride apps cost less than cabs.
• The Hard Rock is less than a mile from the airport. Cheap trip anyway.
• There are free shuttles from most Vegas hotels to the strip and tourist attractions.

Staying There
• This one is huge… don’t stay at the Hard Rock if you can’t afford it! Alexis Park, RUMOR, Red Roof Inn are all across the street and cheap. Scope out a position on a map if you need to; that’s what Street View is there for.
• Partner up to share rooms. You’ve got social media and it’s not like you’re going to do more than sleep and (hopefully) shower there anyway. Might as well join forces and save expense where you can.

Drinks
• BYO. Vegas has open-container laws. If you think hooch is too expensive at the Hard Rock, get loaded on the sidewalk before you go in.
• One way or another, hydrate. You’re staying in the desert in August. Don’t be stupid.

Psycho Las Vegas 2017 Lineup
Abbath, Ace Frehley, Black Anvil, Blood Ceremony, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Buzzov*en, Carcass, Celeste, Chelsea Wolfe, Cirith Ungol, Cloud Catcher, Code Orange, Conan, Corrosion of Conformity, Cough, Cult Leader, Cult Of Luna With Julie Christmas Diamond Head, Domkraft, Earthless, Elephant Tree, Eternal Tapestry, Fister, Floorian, Gatecreeper, GEQ, Gojira, Gost, Graf Orlock, Heavy Temple, Hollow Leg, Inter Arma, Khemmis, King Diamond, Laura Pleasants & Special Guests, Magma, Manilla Road, Merlin, Minsk, Morne, Mothership, Mouth of the Architect, Mulatu Astatke, Murder City Devils, Mustard Gas & Roses, Myrkur, Neurosis, North, Oathbreaker, Pelican, Pentagram, Psychic TV, The Rods, Ruby the Hatchet, Sasquatch, Saturndust, Sleep, Slo Burn, Slomatics, Snail, Sons of Otis, Sumac, Summoner, Swans, The Skull, Toke, Urchin, Usnea, Vhol, Weedeater, Windhand, Wizard Rifle, Wolves in the Throne Room, Yawning Man, Year of the Cobra, Youngblood Supercult, Zeal & Ardor.

http://www.vivapsycho.com
https://www.facebook.com/psychoLasVegas
https://www.instagram.com/psycholasvegas

Pentagram, “Relentless / Broken Vows” Live in Richmond, VA, 2017

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Matt Pike Selling Signed Limited Edition ‘Rabid Mammal’ Guitar Pedals

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I’m just going to assume that if you’ve ever seen Matt Pike tear into a shred-your-skin-from-your-bones solo either on stage with High on Fire or in any of the infinite number of live clips of him with that band or with Sleep on YouTube, you probably don’t need to be told why his signature guitar pedal from Black Arts Toneworks is called the ‘Rabid Mammal.’ As a player, he’s rightly earned a reputation for the kind of I-just-make-this-happen abandon that has typified guitar greats for generations, and the unhinged sensibility of his style is just one aspect of his accomplishments with his weapon of choice.

Pike and the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based pedal maker first released the ‘Rabid Mammal’ late last year. It’s a limited edition creation, featuring art by Alyssa Maucere and the guitarist himself — begging the question why he’s never done a cover for High on Fire, though that’s not to take anything away from the gorgeousness that adorned the front of 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) — and though it’s been out for a while, Pike has put a batch of 18 up for sale at the link below, signed and everything. If you ever wanted to directly support the guy, this would seem to be the opportunity to do exactly that.

Next month, Sleep have a couple US shows ahead of heading abroad for a headlining spot at Desertfest London 2017. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for a new recording of some sort this year, but I’ve yet to hear solid word of such a thing materializing. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen though. They’ll of course be at Psycho Las Vegas in August as well.

Pedal info and live dates follow:

matt pike black arts toneworks rabid mammal

Introducing the Rabid Mammal

Working in tandem with Matt Pike ( Sleep/High on Fire) Black Arts Toneworks are excited to announce this new Boost/Fuzz.

The Rabid Mammal consists of two separate circuits which compliment and push your tone in two different directions.

The Boost function will add a searing amount of treble and upper mids. Controls are: Treble and Volume

The Fuzz function will add a thunderous amount of low mids and and a foggy lowend with a somewhat loose sludgy feel. Controls are : Volume, Fuzz, Tone, High, Pre, and a toggle for Led or Mosfet clipping.

Switching is independent and true bypass.

Artwork by Matt Pike and Alyssa Maucere. Graphic layout by Jason @ Gr8Scott Graphics.

Sleep live:
APR 19 First Avenue Minneapolis MN
APR 20 Majestic Theater Madison, WI
APR 22 White Oak Music Hall Houston, TX
APR 23 Decibel Metal and Beer Festival The Fillmore Philadelphia, PA
APR 30 Desertfest London 2017 Camden Roundhouse London
JUN 3 Primavera Sound 2017 Barcelona, Spain
AUG 12 Alcatraz Festival Kortrijk, Belgium
AUG 18-20 Psycho Las Vegas Hard Rock Las Vegas, NV

https://www.blackartstoneworks.com/rabid-mammal/
https://reverb.com/item/4562941-matt-pike-rabid-mammal-signed-bundle-black-arts-toneworks
https://www.facebook.com/officialsleep/
http://www.facebook.com/highonfire

Matt Pike Rabid Mammal pedal demo

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