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Sleep : The Sciences

Sleep's first post-reformation album is essentially and inarguably perfect within in its genre.

This one came as a surprise to me, appearing seemingly out of nowhere on the apparently stoner-riffic date of 20/4. Initially released in a limited number of 1000 to carefully selected independent record stores, it instantly became a sought after item for scalpers the world over. Fortunately, it dropped simultaneously on all digital formats so I was able to dive right in.

First though, a little personal history. I first discovered Sleep aged 14 years old in 2002, four years after 'Jerusalem' and the breakup. I was introduced to them, and the whole Stoner genre whilst visiting the Matamp factory in a village on the outskirts of my native Huddersfield. Sleep themselves had stumbled on this place years ago whilst seeking repairs for their then Orange amplifiers. Matamp were in fact the original manufacturers of said amps back in the 70s – see the 'Iron Man' Black Sabbath video for some great examples. But the '90s Matamp had changed colour, instead making Green amplifiers. For some deeply unknown and unfathomable reason (I just can't think what), the colour green held a special significance for Sleep, and they got hold of many examples of these amplifiers, and went on to define a genre.

But whilst visiting that same factory myself, I was pointed in the direction of Sleep and Stoner Rock, and as an already dedicated follower of the classic Black Sabbath catalogue, my life was changed. It is no co-incidence that my own Stoner band turned up that same year, although it was another couple before I got round to cloning Sleep. I also ran, for several years, the only Sleep dedicated website on the internet, cataloging all their releases, lyrics, tabs, bootlegs, photos and any other information I could gather. You've got to remember – at this time, this music was waaay underground. For example, the year after my introduction to the band, the re-issued 'Dopesmoker' was released on CD and a limited run of 1000 LP's. Sound familiar? Only difference was, you could pretty much get hold of one by being one of the 1000 people worldwide who listened to Sleep. Times have changed! And so too have my tastes, with my love of this genre so diminished that outside of occasionally throwing on 'Holy Mountain', I barely listen to anything released without instantly getting bored and moving on to something a bit more inspiring. So I was genuinely interested to see if Sleep could capture those feelings I felt way back then.

Flash forward several years, after a massive explosion in the popularity of the genre that already saw Sleep come out of retirement several years ago for several shows and tours, and even a single track release 'The Clarity' in 2014, which featured Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder, replacing original drummer Chris Hakius (also a member of Om with Sleep bassist Al Cisneros) who retired from music shortly after the bands initial reformation. 'The Sciences' is Sleeps fourth full length album (counting 'Jerusalem'/'Dopesmoker' in all its incarnations as one), featuring at least two tracks in 'Sonic Titan' and 'Antarcticans Thawed' that have been heard in previous live sets, with 'Sonic Titan' appearing on bootlegs from the mid '90's, as well as being included as the bonus track on the 2003 'Dopesmoker'.

Firstly, let me say, it sounds fantastic. Heavy as hell thick Stoner amp tone on both the guitar and bass, but without losing any clarity whatsoever – no harshness, only mind melting psychedelic lush warmth. The drums are clear and punchy without suffering from any Metal Drums production that just wouldn't fit at all. For me, this is really a breath of fresh air in a genre that frequently suffers from bad production – but I shouldn't be surprised, each of their earlier releases sounded much better than their contemparies in the sludgier side of the genre.

Secondly, this is everything that I loved about Sleep refined. They just have a way to make fairly droney music sound like it has a direction, a flow. They may stay on the same chord for minutes on end, but whenever they do, the intricacies of the way the guitar strings are struck, the way the bass meanders around the root, and the way the drums flit around the beat with ghost notes – a style perfected by Chris Hakius and thankfully replicated perfectly by Mr Roeder. Back when I really wanted to play guitar like Sleep, I could get the riffs right, but I could never get my head round the solos. Nothing has changed. Matt Pike just has this style that I cannot comprehend. I almost cannot make out the notes, just feel a flow of consciousness come straight out of his guitar and into my mind. Unreal.

It's hard to pick a favourite moment. The fantastically (and ridiculously) titled 'Marijuanaut's Theme' - presumably that's him on the cover – has a groove that just makes me want to dance, finally hearing a fully realised 'Sonic Titan' blows me away with how much better it is than it already was, trancing out to the 15 minute 'Antarcticans Thawed' which is basically 1/4 of a new 'Dopesmoker', the bass-led tribute to the master 'Giza Butler' (this name in particular cracked me up), or the super spacey and chilled 'The Botanist' which closes the record with a side of Sleep we have barely heard before.

I played this to my dad, who's well acquainted with the band, as were all who encountered me in the mid part of the last decade. His reaction says it all: 'This is exactly what this record would have sounded like if it had come out in 1999'. And it really does. Of course, this is unsurprising as a couple of tracks appearing here were in fact already in the setlist before Sleep's initial breakup, but even so, 20 years have passed and a whole lot has happened in the interim, so I wouldn't have been surprised to hear some kind of tired rehash of former glories. This is unequivocally not the case, this really feels like the natural extension of all that has gone before, further refined and improved.

With the vast number of copycats that have come, and in many cases gone, in the last 20 years, a cynical observer such as myself might be prone to commenting that Sleep couldn't possibly live up to the hype. Christ, I've probably said it at some point if I was in a particularly Stoner Doom hating mood… it happens! On the face of it, they existed in a tiny window of time, released a handful of records, and were – lets face it – just a straightforward derivation of Black Sabbath. But there is something just so magical about this group, something that elevates them above everything else, and even now, they are still the kings. And long may they reign, hopefully with a continued presence going forward, because I need this in my life again.

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. The Sciences
2. Marijuanaut's Theme
3. Sonic Titan
4. Antarcticans Thawed
5. Giza Butler
6. The Botanist

Duration : Approx. 53 minutes

Visit the Sleep bandpage.

Reviewed on 2018-05-07 by Kris Clayton
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