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January 26, 2010

There are two kinds of music I am consistently drawn to: absurdly fast and painfully slow.

Sleep was a band that simultaneously captured elements of both.  Their 1993 album Holy Mountain crystallized a sound that would be heavily imitated a decade later, but it was their final recording that captured a truly unique sound.

In 1995, Sleep recorded a sixty minute long SONG about smoking weed.  This record plays like a freight train, acceleration is almost imperceptible, but once it’s reached full speed there’s no stopping it.  Charging riffs, unrelenting drums, face-melting guitar solos,  and the most fitting lyrics to open such a work, “Drop out of life with bong in hand, follow the smoke to a riff-filled land.”

Surprisingly, the album was not well received by their record label.  Legal struggles between the band and the label resulted in a very delayed album release.  In fact, there were two versions released: “Jerusalem”, a rough mixed version quasi-legal version in 1999, and “Dopesmoker”, a more polished, slightly longer version in 2003.

The tension of the two opposing forces of thrash and doom is what I find so captivating about Sleep’s music, but I can only imagine that the musical tension also had an interpersonal counterpart because the band split shortly after recording their magnum opus.

In the band’s divorce, guitarist Matt Pike took custody of the wailing riffs and slaying solos and went on to form High on Fire, a fairly straightforward heavy metal band of the raging fast variety a la Motorhead.

Bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Matt Haikus retained custody of the ultra low frequencies and inner space journeys, from this they formed Om.  Totally tripped out spiritual mumbo jumbo is monotonously recited over a constantly shifting two note bass riff pinned together with a clanging beat.  A two man wall of sound.  Oddly compelling.

Om released a couple of albums charting a steady course across the desert of riff until Matt Haikus left the band in 2008.  When one member leaves a two piece band, it seems safe to assume that the band is over or irrevocably damaged.

Luckily, their replacement drummer, Emil Amos, dramatically improved their sound while allowing it to remain completely recognizable.  Their 2009 album, God is Good, is easily their best; shockingly musical considering Al Cisneros has been playing the same two notes for five straight years, and surprisingly listenable for an album that begins with a 20 minute long song about Brahmans or something.




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