In the smoke-filled longhouses of metal, no song is as shrouded in legend or reeks as much of burning ambition than Sleep’s “Dopesmoker”. The 63-minute, weed-fuelled odyssey was to have comprised the entirety of Sleep’s first album in a new deal with London Records in 1996. However, when the label’s executives baulked at releasing such a grandiose, multifaceted epic, Sleep disbanded in a haze of regret and oft-whispered tales.
Three stoned kids walk into an expensive studio with the idea of recording one song that lasts for an hour and opens with the line, "Drop out of life with bong in hand." During the course of the tune, which changes every time they play it, they equate weed with most every sacred religious symbol, take solos that stretch for minutes, and sing in some malevolent half-chant incantation. They won't allow it to be edited for radio play, and they don't want to break it into tracks. And, by the way, the label footing the bill is the same 50-year-old institution that released music by the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles and, the Moody Blues: With every year that passes, both the tale and the tape of Dopesmoker seem a little more ridiculous.
Say what you will about artistic integrity and sticking to your guns, but it’s no wonder that London Records pitched a righteous fit when the stoner metal legends, Sleep, delivered what would end up being their last record to the major label. The album featured a single, 63-minute song titled “Dopesmoker”, an epic tribute to the virtues of, yes, smoking dope. London refused to release the album in its pitched form, so the band decided to split up rather than compromise their vision: Matt Pike went on to form High on Fire, Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius became Om, and Sleep’s final album went for years without an official release.
Originally released in 2003, following some label issues and prior versions, Dopesmoker is Sleep's final album and a stoner metal classic. The Bay Area band and Southern Lord have now taken up the reins in order to give the record a proper release with this deluxe reissue. It's immediately clear why Sleep's former label, London Records, had a problem with the album, since Dopesmoker contains only one song: a 63-minute ode to, of course, weed.
It's often difficult to muster excitement when you know what's going to happen, too, like when an unbound Lionel Messi is passed a football: "Well, he's going to mock physics", says God, chucks his shoulders and ambles off towards the jakes. Much the same thought went through this writer's head as he put on the 'deluxe reissue' of Sleep's Dopesmoker, i.e. '[W]ell, this is going to thrum like a turbine and durng like funeral bells, isn't it?' So, he went out for a walk, putting it off for a bit.