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Sleep Return With ‘The Sciences’

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STONED SCIENCE: Legendary San Jose stoner metal band Sleep return with 'The Sciences.'

STONED SCIENCE: Legendary San Jose stoner metal band Sleep return with 'The Sciences.'

Within the world of heavy metal there is a magic word. Some people may listen to metal for years—decades—and never hear it spoken. But once it’s heard, it is impossible to go back. It is a single word capable of changing reality entirely, twisting the once-familiar into something mystic, epiphanic, otherworldly.

That word is Dopesmoker.

The third album by San Jose stoner metal trio Sleep, Dopesmoker is arguably the most ambitious metal album of all time. An hour long and a single track, it takes everything heavy from the genre, slows it down by about a hundred beats per minute, and creates something so earthshaking it approaches biblical proportions. It is heavy. It is massive. And for many, it is almost a religious experience. In fact, one unauthorized early release printed the record under the title Jerusalem.

San Jose has long been a haven for metal, but Sleep is one of the very few groups from the South Bay city to be profiled in Pitchfork, The New York Times, The Observer and other such high profile outlets. While not everyone in the city knows it, Sleep is part of San Jose’s cultural heritage.

Recorded in 1996, Dopesmoker went through a famously protracted release process. When their label heard it, they found it unlistenable and unmarketable. It was edited, chopped up, and then shelved for years, breaking up the band in the process. This label, by the way, was London Records—the same London Records that put out The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, and Salt-N-Pepa. In retrospect, it was a project that was always doomed—the perfect mix of creative genius and backward-thinking record label executives.

Of course, people eventually caught up with what Sleep had done. In 2003, Dopesmoker was finally properly released to the masses via influential metal label Southern Lord. Highly anticipated and already legendary, it has been hailed as a masterpiece by an incredibly diverse list of writers, artists and musicians. The shape of metal has never been the same since.

Now, more than 20 years after their initial breakup, San Jose’s most legendary metal band have returned with their first full-length since Dopesmoker. Appropriately released on 4/20—and without warning or promotion—The Sciences is drawing high praise, and not just from Pitchfork and metal blogs. Spin, Rolling Stone and even NPR have weighed in with favorable reviews.

In honor of the dramatic return of San Jose’s most dramatic cultural export, several of the South Bay’s longest serving rock & roll veterans share their memories of discovering Dopesmoker and elaborate on the album’s enduring legacy.

Karl Larson
Guitarist for Kook, High on Fire

I started High on Fire with [Sleep co-founder Matt Pike] after he was done with Sleep, so I do have a lot of stories.

San Jose at that time, the music scene was happening. Down the street from the F/X, where The Ritz is now, towards 280 there was an old building called the Rock Gardens that a bunch of bands played in, and that’s where Sleep practiced. On a Friday or Saturday night, that whole area was just as busy as the SoFA Street Fair was last Sunday. You could bounce from one club to another. There were a ton of good bands. Then Sleep showed up.

Bob Marley had that weedy essence to his music, praising weed, but then came these three guys who were hanging out downtown talking about weed, and being a stoner. It was kind of trippy. They were doing heavy metal, but they had this rasta thing too. They were just these real interesting people who were kind of off a bit. The next thing you know, people were popping off dressing kind of ’70s. You couldn’t say it was only because of Sleep, but it kind of was.

There was something there, but they weren’t quite tight enough. It was like, you knew what they were trying to do, but it needed a couple of years or something. They got signed to Earache and went to Europe. Everywhere they went, people copied them. Either their music style, or how they were dressing. It was almost like when you hear about the Ramones going to Europe. When they came back from Europe I hadn’t really been sold on them. There were plenty of other bands that were just as heavy in San Jose, but when they came back from that tour where they played every night, it was like everything clicked. Like, “Oh, fuck. I get it now.” Pounding drums, super loud guitar. That was pretty much it. After that, I was sold.

It was just a San Jose band that could have disappeared. Having Matt out there in High in Fire, people were like, “Whoa, this is what he did before?”

Willis Rosenthal
Vocalist for Insolence, Drunken Starfighter

It was the early ’90s and there was a lot going on in music. It was true, even in the San Jose music scene. I was in high school when I got my hands on a copy of the Melvins’ Ozma. This album primed me for the first Sleep album, which I purchased at one of their early shows at a bowling alley in Saratoga. Not only was I blown away by their unrelentingly slow sound, I was fascinated with their style. The early shows were full of bikers and retro stoners, all this was happening during the rise of hip-hop, pop punk, and nu metal. It seemed refreshingly out of step with everything else going on. Little did I know the impact they would have on the heavy music scene.

Ray Stevens
Bassist for The Faction, Los Olvidados

I did sound for them at F/X one night—where The Ritz is now. No one was there but their girlfriends. It was on a Tuesday night or something like that, which, sometimes people don’t come out. When they started setting stuff up I knew I wasn’t going to have to mic anything. They just had stacks of amps and no one was there. They really just had one mic and it alone was seriously peaking they were so fucking loud. I couldn’t believe it! I had one mic for vocals and that was peaking out in the red!

At the time I thought they were slower than Sabbath, and when they started getting popular I couldn’t believe it. Nobody expected how big they would be. Everybody kind of grew to love them. But at the time I could see why people didn’t get it. It was almost like, “These guys are going the other way.” Like the opposite of punk rock, how slow it was and how heavy it was. It was definitely something unique.

Bailey Lupo
Guitarist for FRIGHT, Try the Pie

I was 17, 18 years old. My buddy Jason, he was in that band Monstrauss. He’s my age, but he was, in the best way possible, just a ’90s metal head. Just any ’90s metal of all sorts. Funk metal, goregrind, anything. I remember he was talking about this band Sleep, how they’re legendary, and the whole urban legend of them—that they nearly bankrupted a record label, they spent all the money on walls and walls of amplifiers, and weed. They just bought a bunch of weed and amps. And the label was like, “What the fuck? What did you guys do with our money?” It was this one song that was like an hour and a half long. So we listened to it. Dopesmoker. At that time I was getting into more heavy music, but I felt like I’d never been hit so hard. It was so fucking intense. Like you’re just staring up at a monolith. Like a monolith on your chest. Like a big cough that you can’t get out. It’s ridiculous.

It’s kind of funny, because just a few years ago I went to the Rotten Robbie on Stevens Creek, kind of by the Cupertino-Santa Clara border. The one across the street from IHOP. I was just getting gas, doing my thing, my usual putting $8 or some random number just getting to and from work at the time. I’m getting gas, going up to the window to pay with coins and random change, and inside there’s this dude who just doesn’t seem to care, he’s just so into whatever he’s doing. I’m like, “Hey man, I need $8 in gas.” The guy looks up, and he holds up the newspaper, and its this big article about a satellite going into space. He slams it up on the bulletproof glass, and he goes, “Hey man, what do you think of that?” There was a recent satellite to Mars, or some astronomical jump we had made as a human race. Something big like that had happened. I don’t really remember, I don’t really care about that stuff a lot. I go, “I don’t know,” and he says, “No! Really! What do you think about that?” It was weird. So I get gas and go home. A few years later, a buddy of mine was talking about Sleep, and he goes, “You know [singer/bass player] Al Cisneros from Sleep, he works at that Rotten Robbie.” And I realized then that that was Al from Sleep, asking a stranger about space.

Mikey Gagnon-Queen
Music Director at KFJC
I was first handed a large stack of CDs from a friend who had decided that he needed to clear out some CDs from his collection. Amongst the awesome selection of sludge and industrial music was this off white album cover with the most insane drawing: a sheikh riding a four-headed horse while brandishing a three-headed snake in one hand and a scimitar in the other. It read Dopesmoker in the corner and I just knew this was going to be something heavy. After realizing it was an hour long track, I was hooked. I never thought you could make an album that was one hourlong track and that was OK. That freedom really opened my eyes and mind to searching out music that didn’t fit the mold. Which lead me to joining KFJC, ’cause they played music that didn’t fit the mold and they worshiped Sleep as much as I did.

The Sciences
Third Man Records
Out Now

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