They came, they saw, they smoked: Sleep celebrate their decade-long reunion and impending hiatus at Thalia Hall | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

They came, they saw, they smoked: Sleep celebrate their decade-long reunion and impending hiatus at Thalia Hall 

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click to enlarge Sleep

Sleep

Tim Bugbee

Most band reunions don’t live up to the hype, but most bands aren’t Sleep. In the early 90s, the Northern California trio—bassist and vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike, and drummer Chris Hakius—laid down a guttural strain of Sabbath-worshipping blues metal, filtered through a crusty psychedelic lens. They broke up in 1998 following a years-long struggle surrounding their third full-length, Dopesmoker—their label balked at releasing a single hour-long song centered on a bong-toting desert caravan, and the band refused to compromise their vision. (The band put out an edited take titled Jerusalem as an "official bootleg" in 1998, which was given a label release in 1999 before the full version finally arrived in 2003.) Ten years later, Sleep announced a set of reunion gigs at All Tomorrow’s Parties 2009, and followed up with a set at ATP New York 2010 (Hakius had retired by then, and Jason Roeder of Neurosis stepped in). The concert gods smiled on me, and I saw that 2010 show—from the foot of the stage, Sleep sounded so massive that I left wondering if any metal concert would ever be as earth-shaking, or if my equilibrium would ever be the same. The huge power of Sleep 2.0 befits musicians who’d established two of modern heavy music’s most essential outfits: Pike started the feral power trio High on Fire in 1998, and Cisneros and Hakius formed the colossally meditative duo Om in 2003. The reunion lasted, in part because the musical climate Sleep had returned to was arguably more welcoming than the one they’d left behind. Long the domain of outsiders and weirdos, metal had found its way to more mainstream ears by the mid-00s. Many who’d grown up on it were now working in media or academia, and those making metal themselves often carried it into new realms; at the same time, the blandness of commercial hard-rock radio drove listeners online to search for stronger stuff they could buy, stream, or steal. As with any trend, metal’s surge in popularity resulted in some absurdities that bordered on parody, but plenty of sincere exploration happened too. As relatively esoteric styles such as black metal and drone grew past their niches, doom metal became one of the definitive sounds of the 2010s, with its familiar blues and psych influences and comparatively laid-back vibes. And Sleep had a major part in that. In 2012 Southern Lord put out a gorgeous remastered Dopesmoker, and in 2014 Sleep released their first new track in more than 15 years, “The Clarity.” Then in 2018 they surprised everyone by dropping a new full-length, The Sciences, and though its 4/20 release date was obviously a joke, its mountainous riffs sure as hell aren’t. Sleep recently announced that they would take a lengthy hiatus in 2020, a decision that comes at the end of a year in which High on Fire won a Grammy (for 2018’s Electric Messiah) and Om released the live album BBC Radio 1. If there’s anything to be learned from Sleep’s story, it’s to never assume a goodbye is permanent, but this residency will let us celebrate a full decade since one of the finest doom bands of all time rose from their slumber and give them a proper send-off before their next hibernation.   v

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