Album Review: Sleep- The Sciences (w/ bonus Magical Narcotics table!)

Sleep is legendary. Considered by many to be the seminal Stoner Metal band, not only did they create a couple of monumental albums, but their members are fucking ridiculously awesome outside of Sleep as well. Matt Pike is the guitarist and vocalist of High On Fire, and Al Cisneros is the vocalist and bassist of OM. Both bands are among my favorites. In fact, I prefer both of them to Sleep (blasphemy!), and Stoner Doom is far from my favorite subgenre- I'm mainly only a fan of Sleep, Weedeater, Yob and Electric Wizard- but goddamn, this record took me by surprise.

Sleep's Holy Mountain- not as heavy as this album or Dopesmoker, but still pretty, uh, dope.

Sleep broke up a real long time ago. Their last full album, Dopesmoker, which is basically the definitive Stoner Metal record, came out in 2003. They came together for a very good single in 2014 for Adult Swim called The Clarity, but I still wasn't sure if they'd ever release another project. They started touring again a few years ago, which I guess meant they were working on new material the whole time. They came back this year to drop The Sciences on 4/20 through Third Man Records.  It was a long time coming, but Dopesmoker took them years to get right, too. 

Let me tell you how fucking cool it is.

Sleep's style has clearly grown as a result of Pike and Cisneros's other projects: it's no lazy re-hash of Dopesmoker, even though that would doubtlessly be received well by their Weedian disciples. It weaves in some High On Fire riffing and drum patterns, some OM instrumentation with middle-eastern rhythms, and it's equal parts throaty growling like the early Sleep days and Cisneros's fluid chants. His cadence goes well with his bass style, sounding like a spiritual liturgy. Since his writing has always focused on pilgrimages and religious experiences with mind-altering substances, this is appropriate.

Sleep, lookin' like some type of Saganic cult
It starts with a distorted, ambient intro, the titular The Sciences. It's screechy and not that great on its own, but kind of interesting at the same time; it sounds kind of like Metal Machine Music, but it clearly has actual musicality under the weird filter they're using. If you take the album as a whole in the vein of Dopesmoker, it's actually a good warm-up for the hazy, numbed, heavy riff-fest you're about to get lost in.

Marijuanaut's Theme references a verse from Dopesmoker, tying this album together into their extended cannabis universe. It's built on a riff a lot like the beginning of that album with a bit more animated bassline and mellow, OM-style vocals from Cisneros. It's fitting- the Weedian proceeds again, off to the riff-filled land.

Sonic Titan is 12 minutes of heaviness that cranks itself up only to drop into slower, more droney riffs and ramp back up again. It's not a new track, it's been around awhile- at least as early as 2003 when it popped up as a live bonus track on one of the versions of the Dopesmoker reissue. This version here is very similar aside from the increased clarity of a studio recording, it plays at a bit slower tempo and it's three minutes longer.

Antarcticans Thawed has chords and drum patterns that sound very similar to something High On Fire would play, only slowed down. The lyrics sound like some Matt Pike conspiracy theory stuff, too, about how the Matterhorn is going to melt, some ancient race is going to thaw and ride icebergs towards cities as war machines. Top-notch stuff. Gameable.

Giza Butler is a tribute to Black Sabbath (obviously), the godfathers of metal and doom/stoner metal in particular. It opens up with some nice, slow middle-eastern OM-like instrumentation, then busts into verses full of weed puns; something about a guy living under an overpass who's the CBDeacon, the Kiefshatz Hasherach. Yup, pretty silly. The riffs are awesome, though.

The Botanist is the instrumental album closer, and it has a softer, dreamier tone to it, drifting through the air smoothly on a groove that seems kind of well, sleepy. Like fading from a heady high into a deep, gentle rest. Very appropriate, and great grooves throughout the song.

When The Sciences ends, you'll be surprised how much time has passed. It goes by quickly, despite how heavy it is and how many extended riffs and grooves it drops on you. The elements of OM and High On Fire alongside the original droney, heavy, repetitive Sleep style are an excellent addition. I can't think of anything else this album needs; it's a perfect version of what it sets out to achieve, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe lyrics that take themselves a bit more seriously than what's on Giza Butler? But that's quintessential Sleep stuff, so not even that. It's basically perfect. If you're any kind of Stoner Doom fan, here's the record for you.

666/666

Bonus Gameable Content:

Magical Narcotics
d6
Effect




1
Rotstump Resin: Wood saturated with swamp water to the point of decomposition, sheathed in a layer of sap, and aged for months until it is ready to be ground and mixed into an injectable serum. When used it produces powerful physical sensations of vibration and pressure affecting the entire body, often described as a feeling of buzzing and being crushed beneath thousands of pounds of weight. It is a very pleasurable high, and subjects emerge refreshed and cleansed of addiction, hunger, thirst, and some have been known to be cured of disease as well. A bad batch is very deadly.




2
Subito Snail: Small, pebble sized snails which appear via spontaneous generation in fields of blighted crops or potters' fields, they are a hallucinogenic when held inside the mouth. As long as the snails are alive, they produce a psychoactive slime which, when absorbed through the salivary glands, activates a perceptional sense, numbing the optic nerve and removing sight but allowing users to see via the electromagnetic field generated by their body. If they move at the wave frequency, they are phase shifted out of sight, smell, touch, and all other senses of other creatures. The pulses of energy emanate out once every few seconds and produce a sort of sonar effect when they bend around objects. The heightened electromagnetic force will also repel light magnetic objects such as arrowheads or other small items.






3
The Four And Twenty Stones of Power: Globular, smooth, semi-malleable masses of an ashy green stone, of which only a few exist in this plane of reality. Mortal beings would not consider them drugs, but moreso relics of great power. Yet they are indeed remnants of another universe, where beings of incomprehensible power and unfathomable nature used them for sport. The stones contain the power to rend reality, and in fact did- they are the few remnants of that bygone ur-place. They float and drift, buoyant and entropic in any environment. Their proximity is permeated by a radiation which interrupts all thoughts, scrambling and unifying them within the brain. Those within its range find their perspective changed, perhaps elevated or reduced to a languid nothing. Nearer, they perceive a blending of their environment as if creatures, objects, substances all intermix and form new combinations both nonsensical and yet more pure and right than any found in the natural world. To draw close enough to touch a stone itself causes a creature's knowledge, personality, and intelligence of creatures to be completely redefined. Only those possessed of great arcane or divine power or a deep madness are immune, and may take and control the effects of a stone to utilize upon others.




4
Galakh Tea: A tightly clenched flowering tea leaf of brilliant orange fronds which, when steeped, unfurls to reveal an eye very similar to that of a human, which will rise above the liquid's surface of its own volition. It locks onto the gaze of the owner, hypnotizing them. The pupil then proceeds to split like a zygote, captivating another creature with each division, stopping when it has more pupils than creatures present. Creatures are mentally linked, sharing all senses and thoughts with one another. Those with eyes closed or who've previously experienced it are immune. Anyone able to drink of the tea before falling under its sway may control the collective like a bunch of drone slaves.




5
Sanguo-silica Crystals: Sand, soaked in blood and then rendered into glass. This can be manufactured but is more often the result of blood sacrifices made during a volcanic eruption, dyeing the beaches red before it is melted into globules of the substance which is then reverently removed. It must be rubbed into the skin, causing rashes and cuts as it works its way into the bloodstream. It creates effects of aggression and extremely heightens pain tolerance, which makes it very popular among warriors of the berserker variety, easily identified by the rough scarring across their bodies.






6
Sweet Leaf of the Obsidian Hierophant: A thick, oily resin smoked in water pipes and hookahs, or lit in braziers by those who follow the gospel of the Great Weedian, the Obsidian Hierophant. Its smoke hangs in the air, dense and immutable, never dissipating or losing its potency. In an enclosed environment with still air it will persist indefinitely. Those inhaling its fumes are eased into a deep torpor which may last for years or a lifetime, as they are swept into a dream-vision of a far off desert land. There they join a procession of others walking the holy wastes on a journey of perpetual enlightenment: some seek a cleansing mental oblivion which they find among the stark empty skies and still dunes, some hold fellowship and learn learn secrets of the universe known only to the assembly of pilgrims. Exit from this land is only permitted by the Hierophant himself by demonstrating devotion, reverence, surrender to the haze, and the supplicant's native reality bends to this authority, suspending the effects of hunger, thirst, and all other forces but time until their sovereignty is restored by the Weedian.



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