Groundbreakers: Sleep – Holy Mountain
In 1992, California’s Sleep built a bridge connecting the past and the future of metal music.
Sleep’s Holy Mountain is the record we wanted to share with you to review and discuss, because it’s a perfect example to understand the stoner style and the ethos behind it. Bring the herbs, crank old Black Sabbath/Saint Vitus/Pentagram 200 % volume and join us through the magic of this landscape.
The question that might be going through your head right now is: why not Dopesmoker? True, there is a unique vibe surrounding that album, the kind of mystique that only an hour long song can create. True, it could arguably be Sleep’s best album. Groundbreakers is, however, a feature on albums who influenced the shape of heavy music after their release, and Holy Mountain is perhaps one of the most influential albums in stoner metal, second only to Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality. But before we tell you what makes this record so important, let’s delve into the songs that made it great.
“Dragonaut”, the album opener, is a barrage of dope riffing. Constructed with solid, bluesy riffs and a rolling bass line, the jam is a full trip to the sky. The dynamic of this song alerts the listener, it tells to the ears: “take my hand, I will drive you to the clouds above”; you hear the soft sections, the crunchy bass tone and the perfect mix of the aggressive chugging vs. the sweaty melodic solos of Mr. Matt Pike. Meanwhile you’re flying in your dragon, the Chris Hakius’ drumming paints you the mountains. You see the earth below your hanging feet and the echoing vocals of Pike are the whispering wind.
Following this song, “The Druid” brings once again the cult of the nature with a more rough edge. The screaming and the punchy directness makes a great contrast with the previous song; meanwhile the short lyrics express the contrary: an evil entity of the woods sleeping in meditation. The powerful bass with some Sabbath-ian vibes coils around the strings like a serpent, impressive demonstration of how the bass must be played in this style. And this is the greatest feature of this album: while other stoner bands tend to maintain a monotone drooling static sound palette, Sleep’s Holy Mountain is about the meticulous song-crafting art.
“Evil Gipsy – Solomon’s Theme” is a song I consider to be Sleep’s answer to Sabbath’s “Into The Void”. It’s a 7 minute long riff-fest, complete with a groovy jam segment right in the middle that’s impossible for me not to shake my tail to. Before you start getting too familiar and too comfortable, the trio moves back to beating you up with a riff that sounds like the ground is moving beneath you.
The short instrumental piece “Some Grass” opens to the next track, “Aquarius”, which is a groovy fest for the senses. The echoing vocals returns once more with the sedated rhythm. In the middle of song there’s a break, which you will be buried in a desert, it’s dry, it’s a descent to the sand.
Then, we enter the awaited “Holy Mountain”. This piece is mysterious, you left behind the fun, the flying high attitude; you’re now inside the territory of the arcane. One more time, the chugging riffs syncs with the rhythm, awaiting in the shadows for the doped, repeating verse:
Look onto the rays of the new stoner sun rising
Sonic Titan rides out on clouds of new horizon
Until then, you are inside the mystic domains, and more clean guitar section resonates in the divine chambers. The sound resonates through the open sky and once again, the full band explodes with the Sabbath crucifix making the monumental song reach its final seconds.
I feel like this is the perfect moment to step in and justify our choice. Drugs and music have a long and storied relationship, and metal is no different. It is rumored that the term stoner metal arose in 1997 because of a Roadrunner Records compilation entitled Burn One Up! Music for Stoners. While several of the featured bands were quick to dismiss this tag, Sleep embraced it even before its inception.
Think about the lyrics Link just quoted. Now, take a second to look at the album cover very closely. Amidst the crazy lines that form several drawings – all related to the lyrics – you can peep the leafs surrounding the band’s logo. For final evidence, just read Al Cisnero’s letter about Sleep’s demo tape:
The adoption of Cannabis as an aesthetic choice, lyrical theme and musical motif, which would be taken even further in Dopesmoker, was a turning point in heavy music history. It paved the way for an extremely large number of bands with varying degrees of quality and success. Weedeater, Weedpecker, Bongzilla, Bongripper, Electric Wizard, Dopethrone, Greenleaf, just off the top of my head, all owe a great debt to Sleep’s second LP.
Furthermore, you can also hear glimpses of the band members’ future projects in each song. The droning element present in the title track and in “From Beyond” would be explored in depth by Dopesmoker and by Om, the band formed by Sleep’s rhythm section. The boisterous opening of “Inside the Sun” and the chugging in “Evil Gypsy – Solomons Theme” all hint at what High On Fire would bring to the table. I’ll let Link wrap up the song by song breakdown.
By the time you’re in the track “From Beyond”, you’re lost. The ominous melody presents to you the doom itself. In a spiral, the drumming adds colors to the brooding scene of the vibrating guitars. The decadent, almost biblical scene, is portrayed by the vocals and sinister mood. This is stoner doom painting it’s best picture.
In the end, “Nain’s Baptism” serves as a closure for these initiation rites. After you enter the Holy Mountain, you’re not the same. You are baptized in fuzz.
Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.
Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance