Sunday Old School: Sleep
Providing you don’t have to be up early for church, one of the best things about Sundays is sleep. This week, the last word in that previous sentence will have a double meaning, as we take a look at the band Sleep, one of the pioneers of the stoner metal genre. The band’s origins go back to the sludge metal group, Asbestosdeath, which featured singing bassist, Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, along with guitarist Tom Choi, with a second guitarist named Matt Pike being added to the lineup soon after. The quartet recorded two singles. One for the label, Profane Existence entitled, "Dejection," and a self-released cut named, "Unclean." These would be the only recordings made with Choi, who left the group shortly afterwards and was replaced by Justin Marler. The change in members brought about a change for the band as a whole, who decided to abandon the Asbestosdeath moniker and go by, Sleep from here on in.
Now marching under a new banner, the four piece recorded their first full length album, "Volume One," which was released in 1991 through the Tupelo Recording Company. It is hailed as the darkest work of their career, more akin to doom metal than the stoner sound they would become known for. It would be their only release with Marler, who took the somewhat unexpected decision to quit the band to become an orthodox monk quickly after the record hit the shelves, leaving them as a trio for their EP, "Volume Two," which consisted of a live cover of Black Sabbath’s, "Lord of This World" and early versions of the songs, "Nain's Baptism" and "The Druid."
Sleep then signed a record deal with the British label, Earache, home to many of extreme music’s biggest names and known for signing a few leftfield hard rock outfits such as Dub War. They received their deal with Earache by sending them a cassette tape of their new record, which impressed the staff so much that they decided to release it as it was. The album in question was called, "Sleep’s Holy Mountain," which became a favourite amongst the heavy metal press at the time and is now considered a classic album in the stoner metal field. It spawned their first music video for the album’s opener, "Dragonaut," which was later used in the movie, "Gummo."
Despite the success they found with "… Holy Mountain" on Earache, they left the label to sign with London Records and began writing their third studio album, "Dopesmoker." However, they caused a stir in the London offices when it turned out that the new album consisted of only one song, which was over an hour in length. The executives were furious and told Sleep in no uncertain terms that they would not release the album in such a format, as they couldn’t work out a way to market the record. The band went back to the studio and divided the song into six tracks, all named "Jerusalem," (which was also the new name for the album,) but once again, the label refused to release their new material. Fed up with the treatment they were receiving, Sleep decided to disband rather than deal the politics of the music industry, although "Jerusalem" was released the year after their split as an "official bootleg" via Tee Pee Records, and then again in 1999 through Rise Above Records in Europe and The Music Cartel in the United States, before being re-released once again by Tee Pee in 2003.
Following the split, guitarist Matt Pike found success with his new band, High On Fire, for which he also handles the vocal duties, while the other two Sleep members, Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros formed the experimental band, Om, which has also gone on to achieve a high amount of praise from music critics. Although the musicians found a musical (and some might say, spiritual) home with their new bands, in 2009, Sleep was resurrected to perform two shows in England, during which they premiered a previously unreleased song entitled, "Antarticans Thawed." Ever since then, the group has performed a handful of shows each year, often at festivals, including this year’s edition of the Maryland Deathfest. It seems highly unlikely that Sleep will record any new material, not that fans wouldn’t salivate at the prospect of any, but for now, let us be thankful that one of the true leaders of the stoner metal genre are gracing the stage once more, albeit sporadically.
Sleep - "The Suffering"
Sleep - "Dragonaut"
Sleep - "Holy Mountain"
Sleep - "Dopesmoker"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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