Hey there fellow tourists! I know a lot of you other students might be starting to get burnt out as things are starting to drag on, so I thought I’d do a Souvenir of the Week that can help you relax and feel like life is finally slowing down. Also, I chose it kind of because it is heavily related to today’s alternative holiday. So if you’re against that kind of thing consider yourself warned (although it is an interesting souvenir in general). Anyways, this week’s souvenir is the album Dopesmoker by metal band Sleep.
Sleep is a stoner/doom metal band from San Jose, California that was active between 1990 and 1998 and was started up again in 2009. Although they only produced 4ish albums to date, their work has heavily contributed to the genre of doom metal. Their album Dopesmoker not only is considered their masterpiece and a masterpiece of metal in general, but it also played a role in the initial demise of the band. The length, themes of the album, and general sound probably all played equal parts in confusing their record label into not understanding this work and thus refusing to release it. Unwilling to compromise, Sleep became deadlocked with their record label and eventually disbanded.
With the general history lesson over, let’s get into the specifics of this album. The first released version of Dopesmoker came out in 1999 as Jerusalem, an unauthorized 52+ minute song split into 6 tracks all named Jerusalem which had been edited down from the original recordings and was not authorized by the band. Dopesmoker was properly released in 2003 which is considered by bassist and vocalist Al Cisneros to be the closest to their original recordings as well as his favorite version. Although this release does include the live recording Sonic Titan, this week’s souvenir is focusing on the titular track.
Coming in at 63 minutes and 31 seconds long, Dopesmoker is long enough that you could probably bake something and be done before the track is over. While listening to one song for over an hour might seem as fun as being under the blazing sun and getting toasted, I assure you it’s not all that bad if you go into it with the right mindset. This song feels almost like a train ride, it’s slow to start but when it gets going it is able to keep up its momentum and keeping pushing forward. Dopesmoker walks the very fine line of monotonous and making satisfying progress, each riff and beat seem to be explored to their maximum limit before becoming really tiresome or making you feel like your time has been wasted.
In order to get the full Dopesmoker experience you probably should sit down and really listen to the track; however for those a little skeptical about sinking that much time into just listening to one song I recommend having it playing in the background while you do things without any other audio. That way you can work your way slowly into this crazy metal masterpiece. Or, if you think you’re up to it you can always dive right in and listen to the whole thing in one go while relaxing in bed or your favorite spot.
While the lyrics of Dopesmoker seem like the transcripts from a stoner trying to give a detailed but heavily drug influenced summary of the sci-fi epic Dune, it is not really that overbearing. If you are a fan of metal or similar genres that tend to cover absurd and grandiose topics then this should be familiar ground for you. Also, for the most part, due to how low and slow they are sung it is somewhat difficult to discern what is being sung at specific parts throughout the track. But if you want to get an idea of what ridiculousness is going on throughout the song I highly recommend looking up the lyrics. With lines like “drop out of life with bong in hand, follow the smoke toward the riff filled land” opening the track it’s obvious what kind of crazy you’re getting into. Although that line might seem extremely sophomoric, the rest of the song goes into a crazy drug centric religious society with mentions of Jerusalem, stoner caravans, and weed-priests. I know to some this might sound a bit much, but if anything you can at least appreciate Dopesmoker as a musical feat similar to a really long jazz jam session or an extremely solid concept album.
I know that this souvenir might be the strangest of them all so far, but I still stand by it as something that merits a listen to. Like I said earlier, even if you aren’t into the style, sound, or themes present in Dopesmoker you can enjoy it if you go into it with the right mindset. So I hope you all enjoy the rest of this special Monday and maybe take the time to turn the lights down, light some incense, and go on a musical journey. Thanks for reading, happy listening, and I’ll see all you buds next time.
*Disclaimer – The Punk Rock Tourist does not condone or advocate any illicit activities*
Photo credit: https://picc.it/c/artistic/pictures/album/album-art_36379/id/3636219/@sleep___dopesmoker_reissue
Original Punk Rock Tourist photo taken by Monique F.