Sleep - _Dopesmoker_
(Southern Lord, 1999)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (10 out of 10)
Despite the arguments from friends, family members and religious counsel, I feel there are no perfect records when they are released. Perfection is something that is attained through longevity and subsequent legacy. To say an album is perfect upon release gives no room for error. There will be no chance that an album's impact could grow or diminish with age. If a record is awarded a 10 out of 10 upon release but then becomes old, what does that say about perfection? That the word only has a temporary quality, that something could be perfect one day and then not the next? Could an album lose its immaculate qualities over time? At least for me, things must come with a guarantee of certainty before traveling into the realms of the absolute.

To bring this further, it is not to say albums cannot be near perfect upon release. My opinion does not cheapen initial impact. Rather records like _Master of Puppets_, _Number of the Beast_ or _Reign in Blood_ have only transformed and grown since their release. Perhaps I need a new rating system which will include 11s, 12s and 13s to go beyond the standard 10. Maybe given the right amount of stimulants and time, I can devise a rating system which would rival an advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. Until my arbitrary rating system with modifiers and scenarios is crafted, I will have to abide by conventional rules. For the first time in nearly two years writing for Chronicles of Chaos , I am ready to award a record with a 10. If hindsight proves anything, Sleep is the perfect band for the honor. Doom, don't fail me now.

Sleep is a massive band. Their eight years in existence have yielded three records, two successful spin off bands, and a mile long list of retroactive accolades. _Dopesmoker_ was the band's follow-up to the mildly successful _Holy Mountain_. The band planned and executed the album to be one long ode to marijuana set against a backdrop of desert mysticism and interdimensional occultism. The recording and subsequent outcome for _Dopesmoker_ has now become legendary with myth and fact tightly woven together. What is known is between label mismanagement and the tedium of recording an hour long song, _Dopesmoker_ became Sleep's final record and reason for dissolution.

Prior to 2003, four versions of the record existed in various unauthorized form. In 2003, Tee Pee Records issued an authorized version which became the beast know today. There is no real reason why this reissue exists other than the fact singer Al Cisneros wanted to resurrect the album for another revolution around the sun. With new artwork from Arik Roper and a bonus live track, the 2012 edition is almost indistinguishable from its 2003 version. Usually, any album not bootstrapped with new material is never worth the time of day. _Dopesmoker_ is different, as its age and legacy is more than enough to warrant a reissue nine, fifteen and a hundred years from now.

_Dopesmoker_ can be thought of at the pinnacle of stoner doom. For 63 minutes, Sleep pounds away at monolithic riffs which clears the ground for one of the most ridiculous and effective metal fantasy stories of all time. While Sleep has always professed their love for habitual marijuana smoking, _Dopesmoker_ is a doctoral thesis on the benefits of hallucinatory travels. Taking biblical themes and marrying them with slow stoner fantasy, Sleep brings the listener to a unique place where desert bound weed priests pay reverence to the stoned gods of old. This of course is done through a sandstorm of suffocating fuzz and mountain shifting low end.

Sleep's _Dopesmoker_ crystallizes previous work in stoner doom. It redefines the template first started by Black Sabbath's _Master of Reality_ and continued with and Electric Wizard's _Come My Fanatics_. _Dopesmoker_ was the record which went beyond what others have done. Still to this day, _Dopesmoker_ resides out beyond this astral plane as some flag marker no one can reach. There is little to go after _Dopesmoker_ because it weighs a goddamn ton. It represents a boundary or stopping point heavy music could reach. While Sleep was just a trio of burnout musicians, they unknowingly and unassumingly became cosmonauts who traversed a frontier and successfully broke a sonic barrier.

The 2012 reissue would not be what it is today without the additional artwork from longtime visual collaborator Arik Roper. While Roper's original artwork for the 2003 issue was great, his new work is extraordinary. Instead of a bearded demon rider set in earthtones, Roper breaks his own style to create a crisp illustration -- one that is rooted in deep science fiction and legacy created by the band. Roper's illustration pays tribute to the song by depicting the stoner caravan who inhale from a "Dune"-esque breathing apparatus. Roper's new artwork deserves to be the cover _Dopesmoker_. The album has attained such a mystic that only Roper could bring it to the the next level. _Dopemsoker_'s new presentation and reawakening is a sense of perfection which finally makes sense.

I want to be clear that not all reissues deserve a 10 out of 10 as not all older metal albums are perfect. While I would like to think musical criticism could become a hard science, the nature of subjectivity versus objectivity collide in a somewhat idiosyncratic mixture. To say there will never be a time when an album will warrant a perfect upon its release is also liable for debate. I am sure it will happen, and I hope someday it will. If I heard Dopesmoker in 1999 or 2003, I do not think I would feel the same as I do know. Thoughts and feelings can shift over the course of time. Perhaps nothing, not even album ratings, are static or relegated to stay the same. _Dopesmoker_ may mean something different in fifty or a hundred years. If I were to guess what it would be, however, my only hope is it would be as earth shattering as it is today.

(article published 6/5/2012)


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All opinions expressed in Chronicles of Chaos are opinions held at the time of writing by the individuals expressing them.
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