Sunday, May 24, 2009
In the same way, what many of us love about Metal isn't understood by the prog-technicians of technical metal. Why is Black Sabbath's legacy so unassailable while only a few guitar store aficionados sing the praises of Dream Theater? Maybe Metal's most durable contribution to culture isn't a penchant for certain malevolent modalities, but an uncomplicated (and incredibly cool) sonic palette of oozing sludge. Maybe the rightful heirs to Black Sabbath are SunnO))) and Merzbow, not Tool and Opeth.
Sleep's Dopesmoker demonstrates that music can thrill with pure heaviness as its only virtue. They have mined Metal and chipped away everything superfluous, leaving nothing but a down-tuned 4/4, plodding incessantly with no interest in flash or pomp. This is a triumph of timbre over pitch, compositional ambitions restrained to conjure a simple, foam-suit behemoth that lumbers for about an hour. And just so we're clear, that hour is ONE SONG.
Before hearing this album, I had heard it described several times. "These guys play one song for an hour! Etc." I couldn't understand why anyone would be interested in this, but , but the fact the the descriptions were always followed by an ecstatic recommendation stuck with me, and on one of those hungry but budget-constrained hunts through Ann Arbor's Wazoo records, a used copy of Dopesmoker was enough to make me put back whatever else was in my hands. I've always been uncontrollably curious about music that strains the limits of credulity. Good or bad, anything that will make me say "I can't belive this exists" is a must-hear.
The existence of Dopesmoker isn't nearly as hard to swallow as the record's immense entertainment value. Given the pot-numbed reaction time for which Doom metal musicians are famous, an album like this is inevitable. That this album is so listenable is a testament not to the music-geek reverence for "uncompromising" music, but to the power of a sludge guitar to pummel the brain's pleasure centers. Kinda like a drug.
The chant-growl vocals, narrating a Biblical stoner fantasy with just two notes, are welcome diversions from the distortion storm, and the guitar solo at the 15-minute mark and the part just past the 40-minute mark where they turn off the distortion pedal are also highlights, but the core appeal of the album is the Earth-sized monolith of turgid guitar tone. The way Brian Eno, Flying Lotus, Tim Hecker and Krzysztof Penderecki create sound worlds, settings instead of narratives, maps rather than comic books, Sleep have made a monument, a six-stringed Marshall stack mountain.
Though Jerusalem, an earlier and apparently compromised version of this album, was arbitrarily divided into movements, Dopesmoker is one marathon track. This makes it hard to listen to in increments, (though if you approach this album as sonic wallpaper, the first twenty minutes over and over are as good as anything else here) but it also means that listening to Dopesmoker is an event. There are plenty of albums that I listen to more often than I listen to this one, but there are few albums for which I carefully set aside a predetermined amount of time. Dopesmoker is a captivating trip (and I mean that in an honest spirit of sobriety) into a blinding void of heaviness. Make sure your CD shelf is damn sturdy before you buy this.