The Clarity by SleepRelease date: February 10, 2017
Label: Southern Lord Records
Sleep’s powerful return 12” gets a deserved reissue from Southern Lord, after appearing on a limited run Adult Swim single in 2014.
It starts with a strange morse code peep, like a signal from far beyond galaxies hinting that, against all odds, there is life from Sleep! If you’ve been to a Sleep show in the last couple years, you’ve probably had a similar experience, where before the curtain goes up they’ve played a half hour recording of minimal technical radio communications from some space voyage mission control, building the expectations before the inevitable heavy amp blast off. And of course, before too long in this track, the chunky bwoom of a (new) classic Sleep riff bursts forth in a classic fat low distorted tone, soon accompanied by drone-stoned Al Cisneros voicing some mystical weed faith channelled from space Jerusalem or something.
Of course fans will want more, keen for albums-worth of material that they can scour like the band’s existing sacred texts. That’s true for any legendary band who’ve been away for so long, at least in terms of recorded output. But further complicating matters for Sleep is the distinction (let’s not say division) within the faithful flock between those who follow the sign of the Holy Mountain, and those who number among the cult of Jerusalem/Dopesmoker. And considering the sheer black hole weight of the latter album (that destroyed the band’s career with London Records), it’s amazing that any incarnation of the group in recorded form has crawled out the other side, let alone with such a brilliantly expectation-balancing track. Just shy of ten minutes, its extended enough to allow you to sink into green haze, but without trying the patience of those for whom Holy Mountain’s tracks were the perfect concise offerings in the temple of Sabbath. There’s a certain dirge-like quality reminiscent of the band’s earlier hour-long opus Dopesmoker, yet the sound is brighter than that sticky brown sludge, and Matt Pike’s guitar-wasting moments are more shirtless-leaning-back-rock-out exuberance than the fistfuls of molasses he was dredging up on that album.
It perhaps comes down slightly on the side of the latter style, though, by pulling off that incredible (and trademark) feat of monotony that is just relentlessly intense and always compelling. There are sections where the riff is actually built around the rhythmic pulsing of one note- this seems almost like an in-joke, since the description of ‘it’s just one chord bashed out over and over’ was a frequent but demonstrably inaccurate critical gripe about Dopesmoker. So they’ve taken that as a suggestion rather than a criticism, at least for short sections here, and it’s just as monolithically powerful. There’s also the construction of the track through sections of closely-related but subtly evolving riffs that the band had previously mastered, which makes the ten minute excursion stretch in complexity. Just a third of the way in, for example there’s a reverb-feedback moment of weightless space-walk before a crushing thud pounds back in, blasting out huge drifting areas within the psychedelic riffworld of the track.
Pilgrimage meditation on monotonous drone dirge foundation: Sleep forever.