If any band could be accused of hibernating between albums, it’s stoner metal power trio Sleep. Take a look at the band’s small but potent discography, and you’ll see huge gaps between most of their records: seven years between Sleep’s Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker, and 19 years between Dopesmoker and The Sciences. It isn’t hard to imagine the trio of Matt Pike, Al Cisneros, and Jason Roeder lapsing into a fuzzy kush coma between recordings, slumbering beneath sheets of heavy smoke, until they’re summoned to unleash their primordial riff-rock on the earth again.
Don’t write off Sleep as lazy stoners, though: The trio are extremely busy when they’re not Voltroning together to form the Black Sabbath of weed rock. When he isn’t playing guitar for Sleep, Pike’s the frontman for High on Fire; Cisneros also lends vox and bass duties to the drone metal titans in OM; and Roeder does double duty as the drummer for Sleep and seminal Oakland, California, metal heroes Neurosis. Together, the three of them combine their considerable chops, and their love for slow, crushing sounds, to conjure up Sleep’s potent music.
The other reason for Sleep’s periods of hibernation: The band used to be plagued by label problems. Legal wranglings with Earache Records after the release of 1992’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain led the band to jump ship to London Records, which screwed them even harder with the release of Dopesmoker. Composed of an hourlong song that took the band four years to write, and two months of studio time to record, Dopesmoker didn’t get an “official” release until 2012. London Records didn’t know what to do with the original recordings and sat on them, leading to the release of four different versions of the album over the years.
Considering all the bullshit the stoner metal band have put up with over the years, you couldn’t blame them for wanting to hang up their spurs. While they’ve reunited to play shows over the years, it didn’t look like we’d get new material from them anytime soon — which makes the surprise release of 2018’s The Sciences so shocking. The Sciences may be the strongest album they’ve ever released: The band takes the earthquake riffs and beats of Dopesmoker and condenses them into shorter bursts, creating an album with sounds that aim for the heavens, but are heavy enough to pin you to the ground.
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Sleep play Saturday, June 9, at The Van Buren. Tickets are $25-$30, at ticketfly.com.