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Album Review: Sleep ‘The Sciences’

An unexpected return from desert-doom metal legends.

Sleep — a doom metal band from San Jose, Calif. —  released The Sciences, through Jack White’s Third Man Records in April 2018. The record is their fourth studio album and first full-length album since Dopesmoker, which came out all the way back in 1998.

Before Sleep formed in the early 1990s, they were originally Asbestosdeath, formed by vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros, drummer Chris Hakius, and guitarist Tom Choi. Asbestosdeath expanded with the addition of guitarist Matt Pike. After Choi left the group, Asbestosdeath recruited Justin Marler as a replacement and the band adopted the new name, Sleep.

Sleep’s debut album Volume One, which included three out of four songs Asbestosdeath recorded, was said to be one of the weaker albums Sleep released but is a good listen for metal fans and a perfect example of doom metal.  

Sleep’s Holy Mountain — released in 1992 in Europe and in 1993 in the U.S. on Earache Records — was the beginning of the influence and evolution of stoner metal. Heavy riffs, bluesy licks, metal, and a mix of punky and understated vocals were all chucked into a blender and spewed back at the listener. 

In 1999, Dopesmoker/Jerusalem was financed through London Records but the label was unhappy with the finished product and refused to release it. It was later released in different forms across different labels. The New York Times called it a “masterpiece of the stoner-metal genre and one of the most formidable recordings of the past 20-years.”

The Sciences was released on 4/20 of last year, which is a sacred day for the band’s fans, the Weedians. Each tune from The Sciences is at least six minutes and the slower tempos, low-tuned guitars, and heavy sounds that come together exude a hypnotizing energy and darkness. 

Cisneros’s croaky, guttural vocals can’t really be compared to other any heavy metal singers. His voice brings a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity, recalling when you were a kid listening to their old albums over and over again. On “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” he sounds in touch and mighty, with a definite understanding of passion.

The record moves slowly and spacey, and includes the topics of space travel and marijuana, which all blends well together with Pike’s epic guitar playing, Cisneros’s bass and deep vocals, and Roeder’s drumming. The album has an entire song dedicated to Black Sabbath’s bassist Geezer Butler and references the ancient, complex system of belief of the pyramids. The record evokes the triangle of electricity, and the importance of the inner high: “Marijuana is his light and his salvation/harvest sustains the altitude within.” 

“Antarticans Thawed” is a fourteen-minute atmospheric doom hymn which finds Cisneros roaring into a broken-up incantation — much like the way he sings on Dopesmoker

Sleep add rich distortion to their tunes that evoke your soul leaving your body, with questions of what this album is supposed to be and connecting us into the world of outer space and marijuana. The quasi-religious references on The Sciences end up being all about marijuana itself. 

There is much debate around whether The Sciences is as equally good, or better, than Dopesmoker. That argument may never be decided, but it’s clear that “The Botanist” is a six minute song that contains a seductive and hypnotizing guitar solo from Pike that leaves you going mad and wanting the song to never end. 

Every minute of The Sciences is dark and adventurous. After 15-years Sleep has reset the bar for stoner/doom metal with Cisnero’s low, thickly and gravelly voice, Pike’s soloing and Roeder’s power of touch.

Sleep keeps the geological plates spinning ever-so slowly. 

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