#TBT: How SLEEP's Holy Mountain Help Birth the Stoner Metal Subgenre
Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. For this, the 56th edition of this series, we light up some 'kind' with a band Henry Rollins described as this, "DISCLAIMER: Any attempts to describe the music of SLEEP render this writer almost completely useless. They are that good."
Rollins's suggestion to remedy this writers block? "PRESCRIPTION: Listen to Dopesmoker as often as possible and prepare for what is to come." We followed his advice… kind of. Instead of fan fave Dopesmoker, today we take a look at an album that was (like Dopesmoker) a perfect culmination of older influence and new vision smacking together to create a sound which inspired an entire new genre of metal.
SLEEP'S HOLY MOUNTAIN
Release Date: 1992
Record Label: Earache Records
If you wanna understand why everyone in the know was losing their minds over Sleep's unexpected 2018 4/20 release The Sciences, it's because the band has earned such credibility with their formative records (and, because of the rarity of their releases). You have to understand the precedent that Sleep has set – and Holy Mountain is a great place to start.
Holy Mountain is often referred to as Sleep's seminal album or as their magnum opus. These lofty titles aren't ill-bestowed. However, they suggest a pretension that Holy Mountain and the band members themselves don't reflect. Refreshingly blunt (much like the band's namesake), Holy Mountain is built upon marching, messy riffs and a straight-forward, massive fuzzy tone. Amid the affront of distortion is creative song writing that builds upon itself instead of relying on tone alone to carry the sonic atmosphere. I just adore the walking, talking, cheeky basslines that define the drops and wiggles of Sleeps's signature sound. Check out title track "Holy Mountain":
And, if you didn't know, this monster tsunami of sound comes from a mere 3-piece band (with the exception of a few of Sleep's very early years when they maintained a 4-member lineup with musician-turned-monk-turned-musician again Justin Marler). Sleep changed drummers around 2010, and their recording drummer for Holy Mountain, Chris Hakius, left the band. Founding Sleep member Al Cisneros (vocals/bass) says this in a 2012 interview at Scion Rockfest of Chris's leaving the band (and Jason Roeder formerly of Neurosis joining the band), "After the reunion of Sleep in 2009, Chris really, really, for himself, knew that his path was complete, retired, and stayed best friends – Matt [Matt Pike, guitar], myself and him. But he's just not into the live music. And it makes sense. You get to a certain point, this is something – there's no choice, you have to be in this because there's no other option. If it's elective at any point this far in a journey, I don't think you can hold up. It's too intense." The reunion of Sleep refers to just that – the band's reforming as a group after a hiatus of over a decade, from 1998 until about 2009. Cisneros's word choice 'intense' aptly describes Holy Mountain. Check out the 'intense' fan favorite "Dragonaut":
This official music video opens with a shot of a Laney amp head (Laney being the amp of choice from guitarist Tony Iommi) – one of many parallels critics and fans draw between Sleep and the unofficial Godfather of metal Black Sabbath. Sleep's comparison to the sound and rebellion of Black Sabbath combined with their unabashed use of marijuana references immediately set the band apart from their early 90's counterparts. Thanks to the prolific use of pot leaf imagery (and the band's own advice for how one should listen to their music – high) are what came to define Sleep's groovy, personal, charging, roving, chugging, fuzzier than a Georgia peach sound as 'stoner metal'. Sleep's official website is weedian.com. Check out this image of a letter Al Cisneros's wrote in reference to Sleep's demo tape:
So, yeah, stoner metal makes sense. However, don't expect a stoner's typical lackadaisical sensibilities from Holy Mountain. The record is alive with intention and even the drawn-out chugging parts encompass raw energy as the live-tracked drums shatter the drone. I especially love the guitar solos on Holy Mountain. They bust out of songs like "The Druid" much like the rolling molten lava of erupted volcano.
According to this article from theobelisk.net, Holy Mountain and any related merchandise stemming from this album doesn't make Sleep any money. I couldn't find a lot of solid corroborating evidence about this, so feel free to pipe up in the comment section about this allegation.
Holy Mountain has everything a dream TBT should have: influence, age, clout, and vision – and Sleep make it all seem alive and approachable. I love what Sleep does to people. Fans of rumbly speakers, weed, live music, and metal can all hold hands and live together in harmony at a Sleep show, living in the breeze from the sonic earthquake coming from gigantic speakers. Cisneros says of Sleep as a band, "We have the best time in the world playing music together. And, new riffs come out when we're sound checking, or rehearsing, or testing out new ideas. And, that's the best a band can ask for." That ease and that joy is evident in Holy Mountain. If you like Sleep and Holy Mountain, you can get hype for Sleep's career spanning live album.
Sleep just wrapped up a US tour and have more dates slated for Europe later this year. They also just posted the following message on their Facebook page dated January 8th, 2019,
Setting aside typical band spam and posting this as a friend and a brother – I am heart broken for Matt that he was forced to cancel the latest High On Fire tour due to medical issues. I know he is heart broken as well. Music isn't what he does, it's what he *IS* and he brings it 1000% every night with High on Fire and with Sleep. There is no one like him. I consider him family. I wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to sharing the stage with him in April and far into the future. Love you Matt. – Roeder
I'm sure I speak for everyone here at Metal Injection that we all wish Matt health, rest, and healing in the coming year.
Lastly, if anyone has any more information about former member Justin Marler aka Monk John and his affiliation with "Youth of the Apocalypse" and Death to the World, I'm all ears. Are Justin Marler and Monk John the same person? I believe so but can't confirm this information.