Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Sleep - Dopesmoker

Sleep
Dopesmoker


AOTM #47, April 2004ce
Released 2003 on Tee Pee Records
DOPESMOKER (orig. JERUSALEM) was recorded in 1995CE and released in its ur-form on Tee Pee Records in 2003CE on single CD:
  1. Jerusalem AKA Dopesmoker (60.03)
  2. Sonic Titan (9.36)
Also in double vinyl form:

Side A: Drop Out of Life (21.10)
Side B: Creedsmen Roll Out Across the Dying Dawn (20.11)
Side C: Marijuanaut (21.08)
Side D: Sonic Titan (8.57)

Note 1: If yooz highly influenced by another band’s sound, there are two methods for forming your band. You can apologise and have a sense of humour about it, or you can be so much more full on than your predecessors that you surpass them by the second LP. Sleep chose the second route and succeeded magnificently.

Note 2: Although the double vinyl artwork is huge, gatefold, magnificent, the CD version of DOPESMOKER is the best option overall because you can get utterly narnered once you’ve put it on and not have to get up for almost an hour and ten.


‘Get High, Crank it up, and Listen’ SLEEP

When my all-smiling, all-visionary, all-grimming partner in sonic grime Stephen O’Malley (Khanate, Sunn0))), Burning Witch) sent me this Sleep album as a gift late last year, I immediately thought it was the most ground-breaking record in years because it took an essentially unmeditational musical form (i.e. early Black Sabbath) and sacralised it into the highest form of barbarian sonic code you could ever wish to trip out to. It monged my senses within the first five minutes, then set about my inner structures with sheer weight of adamant repetition and monotony. The CD featured one 60-minute long Sabbath Re-hash plus a nine minutes live-in-concert extra to wake you at the end in case you’d fallen asleep under the sonic assault of the main track and your home was burning down. What pragmatic motherfuckers, I thunk to myself. You could chew up some of the good hash and neck a few beers and lie in bed and sleep to it, leave your body to it, probably even shag to it though I was too busy to set up such an experiment. But it was such a forever trip that the whole room, nay the whole of my life, soon became secondary to this one seemingly eternal track. It was neither fast nor slow, operating somewhere between Black Sabbath’s own self-titled track from their first LP and the Flower Travellin’ Band’s own more ambient sludge-trudge version of the same song from their 1970 LP ANYWHERE, then gradually building into a rhythm something akin to MASTER OF REALITY’s ‘Lord of this World’ and ‘Into the Void’. However, there was herein an added bonus in the drumming of Chris Hakius, whose utter relentlessness allowed the sound to transcend Sabbath considerably and obtain a total hold on this listener’s mind. After hearing so many recent so-called Sabbath imitators whose muse really appealed to me intellectually but always ultimately failed to make me instant replay the suckers (Boris, Electric Wizard, Gonga), this Sleep album seemed to be the realest of real shit and then some… And as a Krautrocker who’d always professed to have preferred UFO-period Guru Guru’s extended Sabbalongs more than the real thing, I realised that these San Jose lunatics had taken their own proto-metal into much the same ‘LSD-March’ type territory, then continued out of that track’s city limits across the railways tracks and out into nether lands that even Mani Neumaier woulda never thunk to venture. Furthermore, the lyrics (all ten repeated lines or so) were the kind of accessible pseudo-religious genius that started genuine religions:
‘Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land…

Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth…’

New lows in redundant amphibian shamanism or watt, Motherfucker! Gimme gimme gimme, and then gimme some more. When I was a kid making 1/72 scale model plane kits by Airfix and Revell, I used to paint flies with Humbrol gloss and watch them drag themselves around slower and slower until they… finally… dried up underneath the sheer weight of the glossy overalls I’d painted them into. Now, listening to DOPESMOKER, I was a fly dying of paint inhalation and loving every exoskeletally en-crisping moment. Lying comatose and aware of nothing but the thousands of glow-in-the-dark stars on my bedroom ceiling, I wondered what could have been behind such a fundamentalist statement as DOPESMOKER. Of its three creators, I visualised them (in my hash-mashed mind’s eye) inhabiting a world in which the first four Black Sabbath LPs - BLACK SABBATH, PARANOID, MASTER OF REALITY and VOLUME 4 – had become sacred testaments on which to base their entire belief system (this wasn’t really too hard to envisage – Mormonism and Rastafarianism were based on far less). But then, as I sunk deeper into Sleep’s San Jose psyche, I began to think… imagine that you first came to these four Sabs LPs not in their British Vertigo swirl guises, but in their U.S. Warner Brothers versions, with the first LP losing its gatefold and (therefore) controversial inverted cross, but (more positively) side two opening not with the original slightly incongruous Fontana 45 ‘Evil Woman, Don’t You Play Your Games with Me’ but with the far more typically doomaholic stop-start Iommi-heavy multi-parted B-side ‘Wicked World’ – an altogether more auspiciously damned beginning to side two of such an iconic rock’n’roll debut. Imagine, if you will allow me to continue this metaphor, that being a teenage American stoner and already of the opinion that, being in possession of the aforementioned 4 LPs, you have your hands on some sort of holy sonic reliquary umpteen times greater than Islam’s piece of sacred meteorite at the centre of Mecca’s Haram enclosure, you begin as time goes by to read more and more into the titles of those ‘extras’ that Warner Brothers had insisted Black Sabbath added to their tracklisting to stop the general public from thinking they wuz buying some too-short LPs. And imagine that the addition of those extra U.S.-only titles on BLACK SABBATH (‘Wasp’, ‘Bassically’), PARANOID (‘Luke’s Wall’, ‘Jack the Stripper’), MASTER OF REALITY (‘The Haunting’, ‘Step Up’, ‘Deathmask’) and VOLUME 4 (‘The Straightener’, ‘Everyday Comes and Goes’) to the already murky official Sabbath tracklisting contributed further confusion to the thorny question of exactly when songs ended and others began, so much so in fact that each already oft-changing riff-o-thon now appeared to meld seamlessly and tidally, each into the next until your teenaddled stoner cranium saw, heard and inhaled it all as a single ever-undulating ever-spiralling ever-squirming Midgardian Worm of sonic oil spill building and building layer upon relentless layer on a seashore until the whole beachscape, complete with sunbathers, coastguards and concession stands, had been lacquered under a one-metre-thick obsidian black layer of petrified chemo-gunk… I visualised Sleep in their pre-Sleep configuration, their teenage stoner minds fixating collectively on these first four Sabbath LPs to such an extent that certain repeated words in the song titles became iconic mantras to be treated (Brigit Riley-stylee) as repeatable motifs almost in the psychedelic manner of 6,000-year-old Western Atlantic passage grave art. In this mood, titles such as ‘Sweetleaf’, ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, ‘Planet Caravan’, ‘Under the Sun’, ‘Warning’, ‘Snowblind’,1 ‘Luke’s Wall’, Supernaut’, ‘A Bit of Finger’, ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, ‘The Wizard’; each becomes a useful jugglable commodity on which to hang your own variant of Geezer’s lyric, of Iommi’s heavy up-the-neck wound-string S.G. riffs and of Bill’s Bible-throwing drum fills. I heard evidence within these Sleepian grooves that a genuine cult had grown up in San Jose, a cult dedicated to the results of Black Sabbath’s controversial decision to rip off2 a song title (‘Sweetleaf’) from Clear Blue Sky, their eighteen-year-old Vertigo label-mates, and write it not as a soft homage to grass but as a riff-heavy ‘Pot as THEE Sacrament’ John Sinclair/MC5ian-type Odin-receiving-the-wisdom-of-Urd’s Well thank you thank you you-saved-my-life Shaman’s gift to the Goddess eulogy. I imagined that on hearing Ozzie’s echoplex’d coughs at the beginning of the song, and the desperation in his voice when he sung to Sweetleaf ‘I love you… you know it… my life was empty… my life was down… my life is free now’, the Cult-that-would-become-Sleep had heard it as such a rallying cry from within that it finally motivated their otherwise Total Pot Refusenik Butts enough to get up from the couch long enough to lay down some extreme sonic monotony on behalf of the Vegetation Goddess who had spoken so eloquently to them, their few close stoner mates, and Messrs. Osbourn, Butler, Iommi and Ward. But after I’d imagined all of the above, I had to stop imagining such things because this thing had actually happened and the results were amazing.

Then came the cruncher… this DOPESMOKER album was an old recording from 1995CE, and was the culmination of years of Sleep’s collective (and terminal) Sabbophilia. Yup, there was loads more great Sleep stuff AND they’d stuffed their record company (London Records) with this sucker by scoring unbelievable amounts of the green, inhaling it all then buying even vaster amounts of the Orange (amplification, that is) and recording one 52-minute track entitled ‘Jerusalem’ which they then delivered to London Records on a DAT tape contained in a porcelain skull bong wearing a U.S. military police helmet. Legal wrangling took over and miserable London Records suits wearing extremely brown trousers eventually dropped the band, who had on their hands the greatest bootleg since High Rise’s aberrant live double NOT WEARING A HARD HAT IN A HARD HAT AREA (THAT HARD). I needed to do some sonic investigation and I knew it would be one of the great joys of recent history. Indeed, it was…

SLEEP VOLUME ONE

Behind the Wall of Yawn or SLEEP VOLUME ONE

So here’s the dope, dopes… Once upon a time, there was a punk rock band called Asbestos Death who came from San Jose that featured Luke Cisneros (bass, vocals), Chris Hakius (drums) and Tom Choi (guitar). They hooked up with Matt Pike (guitar) and changed their name to Sleep after a coupla singles when Choi left and was replaced by the religiously minded Justin Marler. Sleep signed to the same tiny Tupelo label that had fortuitously picked up the European rights to Nirvana’s BLEACH and for production hauled in the excellent Billy Anderson, deffo the Eddie Kramer of proto-doom, nay of all things heavy.
VOLUME ONE began with a tape of Buddhist monks, then followed with clanking metal religious themes, everyone but the drummer sang simultaneously and the songs were mainly generic hard doom with an added flavour of Middle Eastern twang and the whole thing pretty much stayed down on that level for three quarters of an hour, asking questions like ‘What is a Soul?’ in a proto-Khanatean manner. This early period is ‘almost there’, but it’s ultimately also too ‘inventive’ and too experimental to really nail what Sleep was gonna go on to be really about. With the added guitar of Justin Marler, they actually made far less noise, were not really (quite) so monolithic and even copped a little jazz twang here’n’there (Iommi-stylee, natch), which ain’t nearly so bad as it sounds. Indeed, as a first LP they got it together pretty good. Still, when they added ‘special thanks’ to Geezer, Iommi and Bill Ward on the back sleeve, it was not so much reflected in the music herein but at the very least their addled minds were clearly already thinking to the futuretro…

Sleep's HOLY MOUNTAIN

You Can Call Me Al, or SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN

Fortunately for all of us, Justin Marler’s decision to enter a monastery soon after the release of the first Sleep album dramatically changed the sound of the group, and in a manner that could never have been anticipated. Gone was the emptiness of sound, and gone was the interplay between Pike and Marler’s guitars. Enter, instead, a determination to fuse early Black Sabbath monolithomania with genuine astral projection. Bass player Luke Cisneros now became the sole singer of the band, wrote an album’s worth of meaningless (and it has to be admitted mainly SHIT) lyrics and changed his name to Al Cisneros (which means in Spanish ‘towards those who work with swans’3). In Al’s new guise as the stalker of the swan people, he immediately became not the Ozzie vocal clone we could have anticipated but the Alpha Shaman driving ur-force behind an entirely destiny-led troupe of demented masters of reality. And so SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN opens with the superb confidence of ‘Dragonaut’’s ‘Lord of this World’ riffola, with changes aplenty and the kind of speeding-horse-arrives-at-saloon slow up on the second verse like I thought only Speed, Glue & Shinki’s Joey Smith would ever dare to do. Weirdest of all is the way the song drops down to conclude in a wah-bass solo redolent of Geezer’s ‘A Bit of Finger’ and you almost expect ‘N.I.B.’ to power in any second…

Suddenly the Sleep sound is all of its own, bearing the same relationship to Sabbath as the Doors did to the Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’. In other words they’ve totally subsumed the Sabs influences into their trip but belched out something entirely their own. Furthermore, you can’t meditate to Sabbath but you can to Sleep. True, they still ape Sabbath structures and even feature an ‘Orchid’-style guitar instrumental (‘Some Grass’). But by limiting their Sabbath Re-hash (basically combining ‘Into the Void’ and ‘Lord of this World’) and also aping that particularly rigorous telegraph wire bass sound that Rodger Bain copped for Geezer on MASTER OF REALITY, they simultaneously achieved the same ridiculously crunchy sonic interplay that Geezer’s bass and Iommi’s SG achieved therein AND beat it all to a bloody pulp. Indeed, Sleep’s wholesale appropriation of ‘Lord of this World’ is even more inventive than Tony Iommi’s rescue of the main riff from The Pretty Things’ ‘Baron Saturday’4 for ‘After Forever’, because they actually annexe the entire section (rhythm, vocal line, the lot) in the same way that High Rise did with the Electric Prunes’ ‘You’ve Never Had it Better’ for their own ‘Outside Gentiles’. When David Thomas wrote Pere Ubu’s ‘Final Solution’ over Blue Cheer’s version of ‘Summertime Blues’, he was saying the same thing – this is a perfect rock’n’roll track and I’m gonna treat it as Public Domain folk music on which to scrawl my callsign. In other words, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, talent merely borrows whereas genius dares to steal.

JERUSALEM

JERUSALEM, or the lyrical coming-of-age of ‘Al Cisneros’

After SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN caused a big stir and they’d invented the term Stoner Rock (I believe, I believe!), some pretty heavy management took over control of the band and signed them up to London Records, who saw the promise of a big underground band and laid upon them extreme amounts of loot. Now, a note on booklet of SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN: ‘If you have Orange amplification for sale contact Sleep through Earache Records’ should have maybe forewarned everyone, but Sleep now took the cash and laid out thousands for this Holy Grail amplification (all in delightful orange ‘70s cases, as my contemporaries will so well know). When most groups sign to a major label, they become (in the words of Mark Smith) ‘like peasants with free milk’. The records are made to suit the company, and some bands even freely admit to working for the man (Mott the Hoople always referred to Island Records as their ‘employers’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second LP even featured a song entitled ‘Working for M.C.A.’), so it must have come as a something of a surprise to London Records when their new power trio signing from San Jose chose to spend all their money on new equipment and pot and delivered an album that contained only one single 52-minute track entitled ‘Jerusalem’… Gone was the generic lyrical vapidness of much of SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN (gypsies, druids, dragons, whatever) and incoming was the type of sacred coding that ‘Al Cisneros’ had previously alluded to only on the song ‘From Beyond’, on which he intoned:
‘Stoner caravan from deep space arrives.’

This was his new direction for ‘Jerusalem’ and it was fucking magnificent, funny as hell, religious as a motherfucker, and appropriate as you could wish for. Moreover, here on ‘Jerusalem’, he was happy to confound us all with constant reggae/Rasta lyrical allusions, sometimes coming on more like Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus than a metal band. The JERUSALEM album is peppered with stuff like ‘Creedsmen roll out across the dying dawn, Sacred Israel, Holy Mt. Zion…’ and ‘Earthling inserts to chalice the green cutchie, Groundation soul finds thrust upon smoking hose’. Even the phraseology gets pretty dialectal on lines such as: ‘Judgement soon come to Mankind, Green herbsmen serve rightful king’ or ‘Now smokes believer the Chronicle of the Sinsemillian’. I really dig it because it’s not only refreshing; it’s also geographically appropriate to laud your drug of choice in a latitudinally correct manner. Fucking on the case or watt, this lot? Now, how unhung up is that? Oh, fuck it, I’m gonna type out all the lyrics for you to have a gander:
‘Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land…

Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth

Creedsmen roll out across the dying dawn
Sacred Israel, Holy Mt. Zion
Sun beams down on to the Sandsean reigns
Caravan migrates through deep sandscape
Lungsmen unearth the creed of Hasheeshian Lebanon

Desert legion smoke covenant is complete
Herb bails retied on to backs of beasts
Stoner caravan emerge from sandsea
Earthling inserts to chalice the green cutchie
Groundation soul finds thrust upon smoking hose
Assemble creedsmen rises prayer-filled smoke Golgotha

Judgement soon come to Mankind
Green herbsmen serve rightful king
Hemp seed caravan carries
Rides out believer with the spliff aflame
Marijuanaut escapes earth to cultivate
Grow room is church temple of the new stoner breed
Chants loud robed priest down on to the freedom seed
Burnt offering redeems – completes smoked deliverance
Caravans’ stoned deliverants
The caravan holds to eastern creed
Now smokes believer
The Chronicle of the Sinsemillian

Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke… Jerusalem.’

While it’s no wonder old London Records furry freaked out, you gotta wonder what they’d expected it to be. I mean, did these knobhounds think they wuz gonna like the results? Furthermore, you also gots to wonder why they didn’t just put the sucker out and wait and see. Whatever, after all this shit going down and JERURALEM being removed from release schedules, Sleep slowly and inevitably pulled apart and disappeared. Cassettes and a rogue CD of JERUSALEM managed to find their way into the underground and the word oozed out that this was the shit. But Sleep were gone and their legend as unsullied truthseekers could only build from there into the sparkling thing that it’s become today. And while Messrs. Hakius and Pike have continued in other musical forms, the world of Doom still awaits the first moves of ‘Al Cisneros’, whose inactivity now stretches back into the mid 1990s. Rise Above Records released the full 52.08 minute version of JERUSALEM in 2002CE, followed by this new earlier version with a more extreme mix. Clocking in at three seconds over a full hour and re-titled DOPESMOKER, methinks this is the best it can get. Also, those of you new to Sleep’s work will probably find SLEEP’S HOLY MOUNTAIN ideal easy ‘daytime’ listening, reserving DOPESMOKER for those long dark evenings at the back of your mind. Oo yeah!



FOOTNOTES:
  1. Sleep recorded a version of ‘Snowblind’ for the Earache Black Sabbath Tribute album.
  2. I don’t use the term ‘rip-off’ as a putdown, by the way. The Clear Blue Sky song had a great title and nine minutes plus of not much else. However, as it did also begin their album you got to admit it’s about time the Butthole Surfers did the right thing and fulfilled both their destiny and this trilogy with their own album opener entitled ‘Sweetleaf’.
  3. Suspicious that this was the possible meaning, I asked my good friend and Spaniard Annexus Quamm about the translation. He wrote: ‘Yes, literally cisnero would be a person who works or deals with swans, like vaquero works with vacas (cows) and porquero with cerdos (pork, pigs) both rather old-fashioned terms. [This] makes sense to me in a literal way.’
  4. There are lots of Pretty Things riffs awaiting a good pillaging because, although the band was naturally heavy, they got caught up in adding all kinds of psychedelic detritus and extra sections. You gotta admit that the Stereo Shoestrings did a great job by taking the Pretty Things’ 45 ‘Defecting Grey’ and sodding off all the sub-Barrettisms, streamlining the riff and releasing it as ‘On the Road South’ – one of the greatest speedball paranoia trips ever.