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.