Sand, sunlight, the holy land, and weed: A look at Dopesmoker


Author: Seth Whitman

I’ve been aware of Sleep’s Dopesmoker for a couple of years now, but I’ve always slept on it (pun not intended). While I consider myself a real enthusiast of inaccessible, avant-garde music, even I’m hesitant to sit down and listen to a 60+ minute album front-to-back, let alone a single song clocking in at 63 minutes and 29 seconds. Granted, that one song is the album. The entire album is one 63-minute song (and sometimes a bonus track is thrown in for good measure, I guess). I’ve overlooked it in favor of other things, though. That was until I found a Reddit post comparing different masters of the album and I was once again reminded of it. So, on a Thursday night, I decided on a whim to give it a try. 

Before I get into the meat of my review, I’d like to include some helpful background information to paint an accurate picture of the album. Dopesmoker can be categorized as stoner metal, doom metal, and drone metal. I’ll start with doom metal, as stoner metal is a subgenre of doom. Doom metal makes use of down-tuned guitars, slower tempos, and repetitive riffs to create a foreboding atmosphere. Now, imagine that, but with weed. In all seriousness, though, stoner metal features these elements of doom metal while also taking influence from psychedelic rock and blues rock. The result is an oozing, psychedelic sound that is often just as heavy as doom metal. Unsurprisingly, stoner metal is closely linked with marijuana usage. Marijuana appears as a common lyrical and aesthetic theme, and one vinyl pressing of Dopesmoker actually has real cannabis leaves inside the plastic! As for drone metal, it’s typically very minimalist, featuring long, sustained notes and slow tempos. With these formalities out of the way, let’s talk about Dopesmoker


Dopesmoker by Sleep album cover

Dopesmoker revs up with a fuzzy, laborious guitar riff. Each note is given room to breathe, but none overstays it welcome. That guitar is soon joined by a thick bass and clamoring drums, and the trio march onward into the desert. After about eight minutes, Al Cisneros beckons the listener to “drop out of life with bong in hand [and] follow the smoke toward the riff-filled land.” The lyrics may seem a bit goofy, especially with terms like “Weedian,” “weed-priests,” and “marijuanaut” being thrown around, but the delivery allows the song to actually remain fairly serious. Aside from herbal delights, kings, priests, prayer, and the Holy Land (i.e., Jerusalem and the Jordan River) also appear in the lyrics of Dopesmoker. Yeah…..if it wasn’t clear already, there was definitely some substance use involved with the making of this album. 

The droning guitar and bass hang over the listener’s head as the drums and Cisneros’s coarse (but slow) vocals keep the album trudging forward. As it is both doom metal and drone metal, the riffs in here are quite repetitive—though they do change…..eventually. I would consider this not a flaw but a feature of this style of music. If I had to describe this thing in one sentence, it would be that this is the perfect soundtrack for melting beneath the sun. Without spoiling all of the experience, I will say that there are some brief intermissions in the middle of this beast of a song. There are a few guitar solos that speed things up a bit; one of them, in particular, I enjoyed: a spacey, psychedelic solo that seems to take flight from the sands and soar in the boiling sky above. 

Overall, Dopesmoker was a really cool experience, and I would recommend that anyone into music with some time on their hands give it a try. (Note: for increased immersion, listen to Dopesmoker while sitting in the Bellarmine elevators on a Friday night.) 

Seth Whitman | KXSU Music Reporter

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