Follow the Smoke Toward the Riff Filled Land

The first picture I ever took for 1537
The first picture I ever took for 1537

Sleep Dopesmoker is not for the faint-hearted.  For the uninitiated it is a one-track, 1 hour long monolith of Sabbath-inspired doom.  In the wrong mood it sounds and feels like how I would imagine spending the day inside a lorry tyre, or working in an iron foundry.  If you catch it when you’re in the right mood it’s like, totally, umm, relentless man.  I mean, come on check the title out – some statement of intent. This is heavy music, in the truest sense.

That Sleep were obsessed with Black Sabbath is a given, most of my favourite bands are.  Sleep took it a bit further than that though their whole sound is pretty much based on the opening riff to ‘Iron man’, well not the whole riff – that would just be too many notes.  Sleep didn’t bother with the whole – Ner, Ner Ner-ner-ner, Nerrrr-Nerrr-Nerrr-Nerrr, Ner Ner Ner  – nonsense; their genius idea was to just boil it down to the Nerrrr-Nerrr-Nerrr bit and cast aside all the extraneous bits.  That’s not to say they’re a limited band, the musicianship here is tip-top, like a painter choosing to paint only in black they’ve limited their palette severely, all the more to dazzle us with the majesty of the results.  There is something I find endearingly noble about this particular quest, this total fixation on a sound, it’s almost autistically pure.

Now before I go much further here’s a list of words I will not be using in this review – Monolithic, Slab, Grinding, Titanic, Relentless.

So, anyway, Sleep’s monolithic slabs of titanic relentless grinding riffs really did it for me when I listened to it again today after a hard day’s work.  Matt Pike is a particularly gifted guitarist, I’m a big fan of High on Fire too and from the first seconds he sets the tone for the rest of the hour.  The song peaks and even has a quiet bit or two along the way.  I own the 2012 reissue by Southern Lord* and on the inner sleeve they have pictures of Sleep’s notes for the song and it can be seen it is divided into sections called things like, Hotel Room, Blackened, Sonic Titan, Straight into Cultivator, Space Jam, Low Heavy and Hot Lava Man.  Give it a few spins in the right circumstances and I swear on my Lego that your ears acclimatize and you start to pick out the detail – you just need to stop fighting against the undertow and surrender.  The words still phase in and out though, although some choice ones loom out of the general fog at you like – Nazarene, Zion and lots of references to bongs**.

Everything's starting to, like, shine!
Everything’s starting to, like, shine!

Dopesmoker has a fractious history, the band were forced into releasing an edited version called ‘Jerusalem’ by London records, before it was bootlegged and then released properly on Rise Above & Tee Pee Records.  It’s surely no coincidence that three of my favourite labels have handled this release at some point.  The Southern Lord one is supposed to be the best sonically, but whilst I used to have a downloaded copy I can’t really compare, hi-fidelity sonic clarity is not really the point of music like this anyway.  There are two live tracks on side D of the LP, but to be honest both times I’ve listened to this one this week I wasn’t taking too much in by that point.

If you think you can take it, this is a really good LP, the Southern Lord re-release is worth owning just as a beautiful object anyway.  But remember one man’s sonic adventure into the depths of consciousness, is another man’s freaking headache.  But first a public health warning.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that this lot may have, or at the very least have associated with some dudes, who might just have smoked a whole load of stuff.  I don’t want to be the one to break the news, but I think that there may be a drug reference hidden in the LP title somewhere.  No, I must speak my mind here.

Anyway, time to retie the herb bale onto the back of the beast… where has that kitten got to?

1537, after a hard day at the office.
1537, after a hard day at the office.

82 Down.

*am not totally sure my love for this record label is entirely platonic.  The quality of the vinyl and the cover art by Arik Roper would be worth the money alone, even if the LPs were blank.

** For those that care, here are the lyrics (stolen from the internet, of course)

Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the Smoke toward the Riff filled Land
Drop…out of life with bong in hand
Follow the Smoke toward the Riff filled Land

Solo One
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth
Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth

Creedsmen roll out across the dying dawn
Sacred Israel Holy Mountain Zion
Sun beams down on to the Sandsea reigns
Caravan migrates through deep sandscape
Lungsmen unearth the creed of Hasheeshian
Procession of the Weed-Priests to cross the sands
Desert Legion Smoke-Covenant is complete
Herb bails retied on to backs of beasts
Arise arise arise – The Son of the God of Israel
Jordan River flows on evermore
Bathe in glow of sunlight’s beating rays
They feel so lost and burned through our days
Stoner caravan emerge from sandsea
Earthling inserts to chalice the green cutchie
Groundation soul finds trust upon smoking hose
Assembled creedsmen rises prayer-filled smoke
Raise up seer’s Holy Prophecy
Lets down on upon years of the sun now feeds
Seed of Eden fall on nurtured soil
Onward caravan prepare new bong

Weed-Priests creedsman chant the right
Judgement soon come to Mankind
Green Herbsmen serve rightful king
Hemp seed caravan carries

Solo Two
–  Break  –
The molten fire flowed up toward Zion
Flight of the Nazarene to seek the Cheribum
Rides out believer with the spliff aflame
Marijuanaut escapes earth to cultivate

Solo Three
Grow-Room is church temple of the new stoner breed
Chants Loud-Robed priest down on to the freedom seed
Burnt offering redeems – completes smoked deliverance
Caravans’ stoned deliverance
The caravan holds to Eastern Creed – Now smokes believer !
The Chronicle of the Sensimillian

Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand

2 thoughts on “Follow the Smoke Toward the Riff Filled Land

  1. “Autistically pure.”. My God that’s perfect.

    This is great for those times when I have an hour to space out, or when I want to keep folks away from my cubicle at work. A great way to work yourself into High On Fire.

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