Published on March 5th, 2015 | by joshenjammer0
Classic Album: Sleep’s “Dopesmoker”
Sleep is a stoner/doom metal trio from San Jose, California. They are known mainly for two releases: Holy Mountain, a seminal stoner metal album, and Dopesmoker, an album consisting of two songs: the sixty-three-minute-long title track, and an eleven-minute live recording called Sonic Titan.
Dopesmoker predictably presented some problems for the band, however. Their label, London Records, did not know what to think of such a massively long track, and refused to release it in its original form. The song was reworked in the studio down to fifty-two minutes under the title Jerusalem, but there was little noticeable difference between the two and the label again refused to release it. Frustrated by the situation, the band broke up.
The album was later released in its full form by Tee Pee Records in 2003, and then re-released with new artwork and an extra track in 2012 by Southern Lord Recordings.
There were several covers for the album over its many versions: the original Dopesmoker had a bearded rider atop a flying steed with many heads, and the trimmed-down Jerusalem featured a priest bowing before an altar. However, the cover that may best embody the song is that of the 2012 Southern Lord re-release. It was created by artist Arik Roper (who was also the painter of the original Dopesmoker cover), and depicts the “stoner caravan” which the song’s lyrics are about.
While the caravan pictured may not appear to be crossing any Earthly desert (see: the two moons), this cover certainly gives the record the feel that the title track embodies: that of an epic journey, albeit one heavily affected by (or even created by) cannabis smoke.
When actually listening to the song, it is best to isolate oneself from others, so as to ensure that the listening will not be interrupted, as well as simply allowing the listener to fully concentrate on what they are hearing. From there, let the music take you.
The ebbing and flowing riffs create an atmosphere embodied by the album cover, and it is best to let your imagination roam as your mind fills itself with images produced by the music. If this description starts to sound like the influence of drugs on a person’s mind, that’s because the song is intended to come across like that. Only this time, the music itself is the drug.
There are some bands that many believe can only be appreciated while high, but then there are bands that, with the appropriate listening environment, have the power to influence your mind in a similar way. If you are an anti-drug person, do not mistake this as a drug endorsement; it is instead a description of the effect of the music. If one were to give this album their full attention, it feels like being carried away to a different dimension by the massive power of the riffs. Given the proper attention and respect, a listening session of this album is indeed a powerful thing.
Some bands’ music transcends the classification of simple “songs” and enters the realm of “things to be experienced” rather than just listened to. The music of bands like Swans and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (while in no way can they be compared to Sleep) also embody this idea in its most profound form. Dopesmoker is one such recording.Dopesmoker is more than just a song, it is an experience. One can review the track based on its stoner/doom qualities, but that is an extremely limiting description. Most bands’ songs can be appreciated on simply a musical level, but this remains the only level on which they can be viewed. Sure, the music itself may hit listeners on an emotional level for their own reasons, but they were originally composed to be only songs.
While its massive length may make it seem pretentious and inaccessible to many, it is simply the length necessary to present what it embodies.