They’ve got it down to a science
Not every album a beloved band puts out is going to be an opus of creation, and that’s something every appreciator of music has got to accept. But what it means to be a good fan is the same thing it means to be a good friend – devotion and loyalty are not masks to disguise honesty and critique. Great fans and great friends alike prioritize realism and truth for the sake of feedback and advancement, whether it regards a friend’s newest outfit or a band’s newest album. After 20 years, Sleep has finally bestowed upon their steadfast supporters their fourth official album, The Sciences. And from this fan’s perspective, the record is impressive.
To start with, Sleep released The Sciences on one of if not the most sacred day in stoner history – April 20th. They obviously know the audience they’re playing to. Aside from the ideal release day, The Sciences couldn’t be a better mix of what the band’s three members, vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike and Sleep’s newest addition, drummer Jason Roeder, have going on as far as their understanding of their place within this project presently and the other projects they’re immersed in. Throughout The Sciences, hints to Om, High on Fire and Neurosis are respectively present, though not bearing over the sound ground they happen to cover at this particular point in their careers.
The record’s title track initiates the near hour-long sequence, the shortest and loudest song without really having to do much. It’s boisterously fuzzy, accented with the audio force of a big bong rip to really set the tone. It’s the perfect lead into “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” where the immediately crushing pairing of Cisneros’ bass lines and Pike’s signature mucky riffage really make their presence known. After just over a minute, there’s finally that taste of Cisneros’ characteristic vocality; his chords like the slow rumble of boiling water.
Sleep also bring back a much more refined version of one of their more defining tracks. Though originally only released as a live version on the Tee Pee Records issue of Dopesmoker, “Sonic Titan” has found its perfection after all these years of fine-tuning. Its previous version was rich in harsh reverberated tones, but the version on The Sciences is the heaviest track on the album. It’s at this point that the vocals truly match the instrumented atmosphere surrounding it, reaching a Sleep peak closely resembling their sound two decades ago.
“Antarcticans Thawed” and “Giza Butler” are like the heads and tails of the same stoner metal coin; the first holds nothing back, a free rein sonically on all their parts. Cisneros brings the timbre even lower with his bass lines and vocals and Pike almost performs in a near free jazz sense during his solo on the track. To boot, Roeder’s drumming touches Neurosis to a tee without pulling from Sleep themselves.
In an opposite way, “Giza Butler” finds itself controlled, almost repressed in its energy. The power is there and exhibited, but there’s a presence of constraint preventing it from reaching the level bated ears expect it to reach. Despite this, Sleep rule this nod to Black Sabbath in their cheeky wordplay, incorporating damn near every weed reference they could possibly think of into its lyrics. Not only did they use phrases like “Iommic Pentecost” and “The CBDeacon,” but “Bong Water of Life anoints the Muad’ Doob messiah” is probably the holiest cannabis statement to have been uttered in recent years. Ending much like how most smoke sessions do, “The Botanist” is like the resonant equivalent to a mellowed marijuana comedown. Solely instrumental, it steadily returns the listener back to reality, still left in an incredible daze.
Sure, The Sciences will never be Dopesmoker. It’ll never be Holy Mountain. But what a lot of naysayers aren’t considering is that it was never meant to be. Cisneros, Pike and even Roeder have matured as people, their connections to Sleep as a faction in the metal community maturing as well, so of course, their sound is likely to do the same in one way or another. Many bands make comebacks that don’t even get close to the worst thing Sleep have ever done, and for a band whose hiatus was longer than how old many of this record’s haters are, The Sciences is exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s exactly what Sleep needed to release and honestly, real Sleep fans surely understand that.