Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Follow the Smoke Toward the Riff-Filled Land

[Taking a break from the Arsonist Project post; annoyingly, herding my thoughts together about bands whose average song length runs less than a minute has taken close to two weeks.  Sometimes this writing shit is hard.]

Just saw the AVClub review of the new reissue of Sleep's Dopesmoker, the SMiLE of stoner/doom metal.  This is supposed to be the definitive version of the album, coming from the band's own master tapes.  Just as I couldn't really see a huge difference between the unauthorized 1999 release (Jerusalem) and the 2003 "corrected" edition, whatever nuanced differences exist between this latest version and the previous one will undoubtedly be lost on me.  I personally have never been able to follow the song all the way through, zoning out around the 8 minute mark, and content to nod meditatively for the rest of the song's hour-plus running time. The AVClub's John Semley sums the Jerusalem/Dopesmoker experience succinctly when he writes:
"This is an album of atmosphere. It works not only to fill space, but to shape it."
From the beginning, there was a great deal of rumour and conjecture about the album.  My favourite story is that the band, having just signed to a major label, spent all their advance money on vintage amps and weed, then proceeded to write and record one hour-long song.  Their label, London Records, was less than pleased, and dropped them immediately.  Though most of those stories have been debunked, they're part of the reason why the album has loomed so large in the metal world.  Like all legends, tales of its creation grew past the boundaries of truth; in size and reputation, it's a doom metal Paul Bunyan. Which isn't to say that its greatness is exaggerated... it remains, alongside Electric Wizard's Dopethrone and Kyuss' Sky Valley, the creative peak in an often lazy and unimaginative genre.  Hawkwind went In Search of Space; Sleep found it, dragged it back to Earth and then beat on it like apes for over an hour.

I'm glad that the band have finally released the version they intended way back in 1996; the sound at least is clearer than the 2003 version (though if I'm allowed an ounce of churlishness, I still prefer the guitar tone on the Jerusalem bootleg).  Fingers crossed that Southern Lord releases it in the green vinyl format that the band had hoped for from the start.