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While pundits often seem eager to throw the adjective ”uncompromising” at any rock musician with more than three nipple-rings, what we have here is the real deal. After haphazardly embarking on their intensely single-minded career in the late-’80s, Northern California’s pioneering prophets of doom-metal took the opportunity of a ’90s major-label advance to record a 63-plus-minute magnum opus to ganja and other Valhalla-friendly political conceits that effectively cost them same promising record deal and embroiled them in enough turmoil to permanently splinter the band. Cut by nearly a dozen minutes, the track eventually surfaced in ‘99 to some critical acclaim as ”Jerusalem.” But now, sounding like a hung-over Thor awakening from a three-century bender, the original hour-plus ”Dopesmoker” returns to stake its claim as the heaviest, if minimally expansive metal dirge of them all, with founder/vocalist Al Cisneros’s massive bass drone and tortured growl making for a hypnotic, if harrowing, listening experience. This new edition also includes the previously unreleased, live-in-the-studio ”Sonic Titan,” a comparatively upbeat drone that breezes in at just under 10 minutes. –Jerry McCulley

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  • It’s good that there are things in the world that are absurdly
    huge, ludicrously long, deeply heavy. This album is one of them.

    This review, on the other hand, is not.

    This album *is* cool. Check it out.

    Posted on February 25, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I bought Dopesmoker on CD while already owning Jerusalem, and I thought I’d share my views.I was actually a little disappointed when I first heard Jerusalem some years ago. I thought: Yikes! This is long and boring and not very heavy. Not as good as Volume 1, I thought. It’s a bit tricky to compare the two on CD – Dopesmoker is one long track while Jerusalem is split into six. This means that, to compare the two records by listening to the same portion, one has to hold the FF or REW down on the CD player on Dopesmoker for a good few seconds.Dopesmoker is longer. It takes longer to get going, but it also repeats a section that is my favourite part of Jerusalem: in track 4 (Jerusalem) or roughly 45 min (Dopesmoker), there is a section after the quiet part where the bass really sings out BONGGG BONGGG – this is repeated in Dopesmoker to great effect, whereas Jerusalem goes straight into the “spliff aflame” lyric.Artwork: Dopesmoker CD comes in an attractive card sleeve, with excellent psychedelic artwork, fore and aft, inside and out. Jerusalem is cheaper looking, but comes with lyrics, a cute bright green CD, and a great picture of a coconut bong. It’s up to you.Dopesmoker is louder: I found this useful on headphones: Jerusalem had to be turned all the way up on my portable player, while Dopesmoker wasn’t maxxed out.The second long (twangy) guitar solo seems to sound better on Dopesmoker, I think, probably because the sound is bigger generally. Also, I spotted a tiny bit of echo on the vocals somewhere in the mix, not there in Jerusalem.Dopesmoker begins with a cute little flourish, while Jerusalem does not.Still, comparing Dopesmoker with Jerusalem directly, on the same stereo, I was surprised to find that I actually prefer Jerusalem. Dopesmoker is definately bigger and bassier, but Jerusalem is trancier and more together. This is purely a subjective response, and I think others will definately disagree with me.Also, Jerusalem is split into 6 tracks. I know the band hated it, but it’s pretty sensible. I usually listen from track 2 (the way the tracks are split is intelligent and it goes into a great riff), or listen from track 4 (my favourite portion). Purists among you, don’t be angry. Actually, Dopesmoker comes with extra track Sonic Titan, but I think it’s a waste of time, except it allows you to jump to the end of track 1 (Dopesmoker) and rewind it if your favourite chunk is somewhere near the end. 52 minutes is more tolerable than 64.I traded my copy of Dopesmoker, but it certainly reawakened my interest in Jerusalem. These are two very similar records anyway: I’d buy whichever one takes your fancy on a whim. You’re better off with the groovy Holy Mountain or the lovely Volume 1, though!

    Posted on February 25, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Before Matt Pike formed the excellent doom metal outfit High On Fire, he took part in one of the most uncompromising stoner jams of all time with the band Sleep. I’m not particularly interested in Sleep’s other works–the general consensus is that they are little more than Black Sabbath tribute records, but Dopesmoker/Jerusalem is pretty unique. The differences between Dopesmoker and Jerusalem: Dopesmoker is longer by about 10 minutes, has better production, cooler cover artwork (in my opinion anyway), and is not arbitrarily sliced up into parts like Jerusalem. Jerusalem was edited by their record label–the band hated it, but it does make this jam a bit more accessible (and you can skip ahead to the parts you like if it gets boring). Also Dopesmoker contains an additional 10-minute track labeled Sonic Titan, recorded live.

    Anyway, back to the title track: It is an hour-plus long jam; the motif is established early on, and most of Dopesmoker is a series of variations on that main riff. It is monotonous, droning, SLLLLOOOOWWWWW, and oh yeah, heavier than a herd of pachyderms. This album will seriously test the limits of your sound system if you’re going to play it at the appropriate volume (which of course is loud enough to be mistaken for low-flying 747’s). The bass alone will exact a pounding on your chest cavity.

    Musically, it is good despite the monotony. Pike’s solos are excellent, as usual, and Chris Haikus beats the skins capably. Cisnero’s vocals are sparse but perfect in conveying that hazy atmosphere, and the lyrics are about Christ and pot (“green herbsmen serve rightful king”…duuude). Definitely different from your average metal.

    Needless to say, something like this has very limited appeal and is kind of tough to rate. Even some fans of the genre are going to find Dopesmoker a boring experience without, um, certain controlled substances. I for one think Dopesmoker is pretty good. It’s very trance-inducing and atmospheric “ambient metal” that is well off the beaten path. I can’t see that many people listening to an album like this all the time, but it should be experienced at least once. If you like the sound but prefer more abbreviated song structures, pick up High On Fire’s Surrounded By Thieves.

    Posted on February 24, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Smoke; Thundering drums; More smoke; Hulking buffalo-fuzz bass lines; Towering resin-caked riffs played on the crustiest guitar ever fretted; Shaggy green sasquatch-like vocals that do more chanting than singing; Lyrics chronicling bong-fogged Old Testament events.
    Sleep opened a portal to something ancient, epic, vast, slow as molasses and as vivid as a Vietnam flashback, and raised the bar unattainably HIGH for stoner rock/doom bands that followed.
    Not exactly ‘Stoner Rock’ though, Sleep were more like shamans. Having little to do with Reggae musically, but from the same realm as Rastafari Holymen. This album is its own genre. There’s nothing angry or hostile about any of it, but its the HEAVIEST music I’ve ever heard.
    This is an earlier, extended version of ‘Jerusalem’. Theres more space in the recording, not so dense. It sounds a lot rawer, which, for this type of music of course, is ideal. The added live track “Sonic Titan”, is buoyant in contrast, sounds kinda like a “Holy Mountain” song.
    The Arik Roper artwork is pretty bitchin too.
    If you like it transcendental, loud, and numbingly heavy, this is the ticket. Turn on, tune in, drop out…Maaaaaannnn!

    Posted on February 24, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Holy mother of GOD is this heavy. A more proper length and mix of “Jerusalem”, this newly released juggernaut realizes the band’s vision of their much-publicized and infamous uber-dirge, complete with more emphasis on the rhythym section’s power when necessary and 13 minutes of added music. No longer broken into six separate tracks that run into each other, “Dopesmoker” is one 65-minute track and a bonus live recording of “Sonic Titan”, where one can hear a smidgen of what sounds like a High on Fire riff here and there. This version promises to blow out speakers of all kinds, as Al’s bass is far heavier and prominent, but only when it’s necessary. Pike’s guitar is slightly edgier and compliments the newly restored bass sound nicely, leads screaming and clearer. Chris’s drumming turns out to be an underrated part of “Dopesmoker”, as you hear new and unearthed parts of his thundering backbeat that were otherwise overshadowed on “Jerusalem”Best heard on a customized mix (preferrably with the bass turned slightly down for balance), “Dopesmoker” can take it’s place as a fully established classic among the doom/stoner/drone genre, a far overdue release that will satisfy fanatics of crushingly heavy riffing and long improv. You’ll feel it in your chest.

    Posted on February 24, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now