Nearly 20 years ago, three hashed-up heshers gave us Dopesmoker, a "chronicle of the sinsemillian" centering around a caravan of Weedian lungsmen trekking through the desert looking for Zion, a smoke and "riff-filled land." The long-awaited follow-up, The Sciences, finds those weed-priest creedsman exhausting their earthly resources and taking to the final frontier in search of an interstellar "riff tree," from which all stonerly strums stem and all bongs bubble.
Dopesmoker's monolithic structure matched its narrative, with one riff stretched and warped continuously for an hour to mimic an arduous voyage through a desert whose dunes all begin to blend together. So it also goes with the more varied, but no less towering Sciences, whose pacing invokes interplanetary travel. We begin with the garbled transmission of a guitar riff, perhaps picked up light years away. Once locked onto the source's coordinates, there's the sound of a bong rip, and away we go.
The ensuing "Marijuanaut's Theme" is the most upbeat Sleep's ever been, a rollicking onslaught of spaceship thrusters blasting away from barren rock and towards the promised land. "Initiate burn never to return/The distance fades, receding," croaks wizened bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros. Coming out of hyperdrive into a "hashteroid field," Matt Pike's white-hot Les Paul histrionics mimic the ship catching ablaze as it plummets into the new planet's atmosphere.
The Sciences' middle section of the longer, more glacial-paced "Sonic Titan" and "Antarcticans Thawed," reminds us, like films by Kubrick and Nolan have in the past, that space-quests are no exact science. Our heros slow to crawl as their journey begins to resemble that of their terrestrial ancestors. "Look onto Zion, no it can't be seen," Cisneros chants, drawing strength from Dopesmoker's promise of a fertile end of the road, but finding that even the lungsmen's evolved space tech can't help them here. "Man on the moon can't help me see."
Shrieking through phasers that sound like the brainchildren of NASA's anti-Russian days, the band finally reaches salvation on "Giza Butler," a portmanteau that doubles as a succinct description of Sleep's dual Holy Land and Black Sabbath obsessions. Cries of sacramental celebration abound: "The riff tree has risen"; "Bong water from life anoints the messiah"; "Marijuana is his light and salvation."
Though its composition and recording may never take on the rarified air of Dopesmoker's sessions, The Sciences is as devoted a paean to cannabis as has ever been laid to wax. Sleep have returned from the mount with stoner metal tablets of stone. In Pike's name we pray.
Purchase Sleep's "The Sciences" from Third Man Records' webstore.
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