Review: Sleep – The Sciences

Sleep‘s hazy 1998 sermon Jerusalem instructed listeners to “Drop out of life with bong in hand, follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land.” It’s been a long and quiet journey, but we’ve arrived. Enter the promised land that is Sleep‘s career-spanning opus, The Sciences.

I don’t use the term “career-spanning” as a means to make The Sciences sound grander than it is. The album has some legitimate and lesser-known history behind it. For instance, The Sciences is the first full-on original album we’ve gotten since Sleep‘s Jerusalem. Yes, the well-known Dopesmoker album came out in 2003 and Jerusalem was essentially a glorified bootleg, but Dopesmoker is still just a more realized and less edited reissue of Jerusalem.

The 2003 version of Dopesmoker put out by Tee Pee Records contained the hour-long stoner epic plus a live version of “Sonic Titan” performed in 1992. This is the only appearance of “Sonic Titan” in Sleep‘s catalog until the song appeared as a studio recording on The Sciences. The original version of “Sonic Titan” was nine minutes long, whereas The Sciences‘ version clocks in at just under 13 minutes.

Sleep also wrote The Sciences‘ track “Antarticans Thawed” somewhere between 1995 and 1998 whilst undergoing legal battles, composing Jerusalem, and eventually breaking up over disputes with London Records on how to release the song-turned-album. “Antarticans Thawed” never saw the light of day until Sleep‘s 2009 reunion show at All Tomorrow’s Parties where they gave the track a live debut. So if you’re wondering why new Sleep sounds like old Sleep, it’s because some of it actually is old.

Another throwback on The Sciences is the opening title track, which sounds like Mike Pike trying to tell you something via morse code on guitar. In a way, he’s just continuing his communication. “The Sciences” picks up where Sleep‘s comeback 2014 single “The Clarity” left off. As “The Clarity” wound down, it was gradually reduced to Pike’s guitar oscillating and fading into waves of distortion until abruptly cutting off. Fans would have to wait another four years until Pike’s transmission picked up again, though they didn’t know it at the time.

History aside, The Sciences is an excellent record and exactly the comeback Sleep deserved. After that broken-sounding opening broadcast comes the head-nodding “Marijuanaut’s Theme.” It becomes immediately evident that Sleep is still on top of their game, if not better than ever. Pike’s droning, raw guitar tone cuts through the plumes of smoke, Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder may have more arms than your standard human being, and bassist and vocalist Al Cisneros’ effortlessly fluid playing provides an interesting and groovy middle ground between Pike and Roeder.

Plus, the song begins with Cisneros loudly hitting a water pipe before the trio comes buzzing into frame. This is Sleep. There are weed references everywhere.

The next track is the classic “Sonic Titan,” which is split in two. The first half of the song mirrors a less swinging version of “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and the second half slows to a crawl before picking back up again. Cisneros commands listeners to “look unto Zion though it can’t be seen,” a line that’ll be stuck in your head for weeks, as he conjures a wah-heavy bass lick reminiscent of Sleep‘s 1992 classic “Dragonaut.” Following that is “Antarcticans Thawed,” a 14-minute full band hymn that includes Cisneros chanting his lyrics with a holy reverence for the words.

At this point, The Sciences has condensed into a droning singularity. “Marijuanaut’s Theme” was a lively kickoff, “Sonic Titan” slowed the momentum down, and “Antarcticans Thawed” chronicled an ancient species’ destruction of cities with an army of glaciers at the pace a glacier moves. The Sciences is now at a standstill and blinks out of existence.

Then, somewhere underneath the darkness is a sub-frequency bass line. Cisneros lurks and is given away by Roeder’s percussion alongside Pike’s otherworldly space-pyramid of a guitar melody. Much like the big bang, everything has consolidated only to explode once more. “Giza Butler,” an allusion to the city of Giza and to Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, resumes the slow headbang mood of “Marijuanaut’s Theme” with a slightly more straightforward rhythm. Closing instrumental “The Botanist” simply watches the debris fly from the explosion as it all shrinks into the deep, vast blackness of space. “The Botanist” dissolves into itself with acoustic guitars, scratchy guitar solos, and a fade-out that piles on the reverb until Sleep is but a dot among countless other dots in the distance.

The Sciences is a work of art by one of the forefathers of the stoner metal genre. It not only proves Sleep‘s relevance as a band in 2018, but also shows the metal world how to effectively craft a slow-burning heavy record. Production-wise, The Sciences is just as great. Roeder’s drums are clear and distinguished, Cisneros’ bass is hefty but still retains a very naturally crunchy sound, and Pike’s guitar is about two inches away from you at all times, beckoning you into the not-so-enticing world of tinnitus. The Sciences gives you the impression you’re sitting in the middle of the floor as the trio plays all around.

Now go and take a ride with the marijuanaut. Feel time slow to a halt, watch existence consolidate, and behold a new universe come into being. It’s worth it.

Buy The Sciences here.

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P.S. If you’re still looking for more Sleep, check out The Sciences b-side “Leagues Beneath.” It’s 16 minutes of crunchy, uncompromising goliath-sized riffs that frankly would’ve made the album entirely too long and droning, but as a standalone listening experience is fantastic.

The Sciences was listened to via Tidal streaming through ROON. Audio was streamed through an AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5 into Sennheiser HD 598 Cs Closed-Back Headphones.

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