Album Review : Sleep - The Sciences
Unbeknownst to me, influential doom/stoner metal band Sleep released their fourth album The Sciences, earlier this year. Of course, it was on 4/20 and I was too busy going through A Perfect Circle's new album Eat the Elephant to notice anything else. To my defense, Sleep isn't exactly a prolific band either, The Sciences is their first album in almost two decades. And it's pretty great. Sleep might be a little rusty from not recording music all these years, but when they do, they record music that will fucking shake the foundation of your house.
There are six songs on The Sciences, ranging from three to a walloping fourteen minutes. Sonic Titans and Antarticans Thawed, the two longest (and most interesting) ones, were originally writtne during the Dopesmoker sessions, close to two decades ago. So, there's a strong feeling of continuity on The Sciences. It's not a copy of the iconic Dopesmoker or anything like that. Nothing could really be, anyway. But you're in familiar territory of walls of buzzing guitar and eloquent stoner allegories. Sleep aren't trying to reinvent themselves here. They know who they are and they know what they like to play and it's part of what makes The Sciences successful.
Of course, guitar takes an enormous place on the album. Some would argue it takes all the place and they wouldn't be exactly wrong, but Matt Pike's work is absolutely spellbinding. His riffs are long, buzzing and glitching like a fucking cosmic sound storm. On songs like Marijuanaut's Theme and Giza Butler, his adds a classic rock layer to the blissful, spacey doom riffing that keeps you from going adrift. The songs are long, meditative, full of guitars, but it's crammed full of little details that'll keep you attentively listening. The Sciences is deceptively complex, but it's not showy or obsessed with itself.
The drug-fueled space odyssey depicted in Al Cisneros' lyrics is the other reason why I enjoyed The Sciences. He depicts smoking weed as this reality-altering endeavor, which has these layers of cosmic resonance. In Marijuanaut's Theme, loading up a bowl becomes this anxiety-inducing space launch. Sonic Titan has only four obsessive lines, which I believe are about an hallucination. While I think worship song is stupid for a band of Sleep's stature, Giza Butler translate the sacredness of listening to Black Sabbath like nothing else I've ever heard before. Everything in Al Cisneros' world is grand, sweeping and sacred, which makes the experience of listening to Sleep so special.
My only problems with The Sciences were with the production. The mix is really guitar-heavy. The bass has that muted quality to it, which is really bizarre in a song that openly worships a bass player like Giza Butler. Al Cisneros' vocals also have all this echo and reverb to it, which I thought hampered the amazing command he usually has in his delivery. But it doesn't make it a bad album by any means. The Sciences is a great return to form, by Sleep. They are older, wiser and maybe a little more meditative than they were in the past, but they still have an old school bite to them newer bands will simply never have.