Flick…flick…bubble…exhale. Though maybe there should be a few extra flicks and bubbles since we’ve been waiting nearly 20 years for a new Sleep record. The stoner legends surprised us all on April 20th when they dropped The Sciences with less than 24 hours notice. And their first album since the single track and hour-long Dopesmoker does not disappoint.
The Sciences starts off like the band hadn’t been on nearly a two-decade hiatus. Just hearing the shirtless wonder Matt Pike playing with big fuzzy feedback in the intro track “The Sciences” is the best way anyone could imagine the new Sleep record to start. Basically, it’s the liftoff into the stoner space epic anyone could imagine. It’s actually incredible how well these guys can mesh together. Despite the change behind the drum kit from Chris Hakius to Neurosis’ Jason Roeder, it’s as though nothing has changed. The guys can still create those amazing stoner grooves that make you melt into the background and bob your head to the beat. It’s got those giant fuzzy guitars with the groovy bass lines we all crave. While Pike and Cisneros developed their own distinct styles with High on Fire and OM respectively, it didn’t take much for them to mesh back into the group.
As clichéd as they can be, the best part of this record is just how on the nose it can be. Sleep just completely owns their image as total and unabashed stoner creatives. The lyrics to “Giza Butler” just talk about someone walking through an agrarian village cultivating marijuana. They riddle it with any kind of reference they can that might maybe in some way sort be referring to marijuana. “Iommic Pentecost”. “The CBDeacon”. “Cart moored to tree/proceeds the Creek Hippy”. “The rifftree is risen – the bong is to live in/An ounce a day, lightens the way/Salutations to the cultivators”. Despite just how obvious the references are, the record never seems like they’re trying too hard to be something. This is a Sleep record. They don’t have to try to be this way. They just are.
The main difference between this record and their older records is how much each member contributes to the tracks. Not to downplay the necessity of Cisneros’ bass, but typically bassists are lost in the mix of most rock records. This record is mixed really well for what this band is. Stoner metal really requires heavy bass influences, and you can count on that from Sleep. You need to really feel that bass. Your head has to vibrate when you have your headphones on, and something has to make you feel the groove. Only the bass can do that.
It’s really difficult to pick one track on the album, but “Marijuanaut’s Theme” basically wraps up the entire album. It starts big: Pike blasting fuzzed-out power chords, Cisneros pounding out low bass notes, and Roeder splashing the hell out of his cymbals between his snares. The lyrics talk about a marijuana-infused space journey which might be the most stoner metal thing of all time. The riffs are consistent right to the bass solo and cymbal breakdown before the guitar solo completely melts everyone’s faces.
Sleep fans and stoner aficionados could not have asked for anything better from this record. Very few things had expectations as high as the idea of a new record from a band on a two-decade hiatus. Fair or not, Sleep knocked it out of the park. Meeting and exceeding expectations does not begin to describe what this record did. Those who worship the bong, commence the hazing of your mind. Enter the hashteroid fields. Sleep has returned.