San Jose stoner metal legends Sleep just played two sold out shows at Neumos, leaving Washington metal heads sufficiently blitzed and blown away. The band had only four shows scheduled for June and fans in Seattle made express use of the opportunity. For a Sleep fan, those don’t come too often.
Bassist Al Cisneros and guitarist Matt Pike crafted the group’s beginnings from the remains of their last band Asbestosdeath along with drummer Chris Hakius and guitarist Justin Marler back in 1990 (Marler departed soon after). The band recorded all their albums between then and their breakup in 1998, including the posthumously released hour and counting stoner/doom opus Dopesmoker. While that piece remained in limbo after the breakup, issued under the name Jerusalem and cut up into smaller segments on Rise Above/Music Cartel, Cisneros went on to form OM and Pike formed High on Fire. Both groups have released several recordings and become successful in their own right, but that didn’t leave Sleep or Dopesmoker unforgotten. In 2003, the definitive, untampered version was released on Tee Pee Records and Southern Lord to critical acclaim (well, even more critical acclaim than it had already received). In 2009, Sleep came back, initially playing to reunion sets at the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival. In 2010, Chris Hakius left the band and was replaced by Jason Roeder of experimental metal colossus Neurosis. Before arriving in Seattle, the group toured around Europe for the month of May, a jaunt that included stops at Al Tomorrow’s Parties in Leeds and London as well as Primivera Sound in Barcelona.
While performing, the trio were the metal bad*ss stereotype fully realized. No where else will you get a band that so fully seems the distillation of everything really “sick” about metal culture in the 80s. Weed? Shredding? Dungeons and Dragons? They’ve got it covered. The amount of charisma in Pike’s tattooed, stomping form is enough to critically wound one hundred giants. Cisneros supplies the steady, blues fuzzed bass lines for Pike to blare reverb laden blues metal solos while Roeder demolishes his drumset in flurries of powerful fills. All things considered, the whole affair is laid back and very well composed, a trait to be expected from a band capable of crafting a 63 minute song and have it lauded as a hallmark of the genre. While the band did not spend that amount of tune performing Dopesmoker, they did play most of the tunes off of 1993’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain, “Sonic Titan”, and two new songs, “Magnatar” and “And Sagan”. Perhaps this means fans can look forward to new recordings in the near future. If so, they can expect them to be just as geeky and awesome as always.
Between tunes, the band members were anywhere from quietly appreciative to mildly pissed. I’m uncertain of what makes people want to go to see one of their favorite metal bands and then tepidly accost them the entire time (other than stimulants). Cisneros didn’t appear appreciative of the sentiments and briefly confronted a rather loud man at the front who took to telling Cisneros to not, “be shy”. Cisneros promised him that he wasn’t and no more issues were had. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Roeder came out from behind the set to thank both original members for the last two years and to wish Pike a happy birthday (June 2nd). Playful kicking and hugging ensued. Then they played “Sonic Titan” and melted everyone’s faces off.
Supporting Sleep were San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City and Portland’s Stoneburner. Kowloon seemed reminiscent of a stretched out and heavily amplified Fugazi, tying drone tendencies and harmonic simplicity into stuttering slow punk rhythms. The barked vocals punctuated the inkling that you were listening to a slowed down post-hardcore LP through ancient speakers and the highest possible volume. Stoneburner merged psychedelic slow passages and guitar wah into their trotting stoner doom, lending a more metaphysical enticement to the show. Wheras Sleep very readily have songs that recall late nights battling dragons with a twelve-sided die in your parents basement, Stoneburner lightly touched the experimental side of fantasy in excellent accompaniment with the headliner.