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Ear to the Ground: Sleep's “The Clarity”

The doom titans’ first recording in more than 20 years is even more monstrously throbbing than their genre-defining early work.

Oh sure, it’s easy to look back on the early ’90s and get all nostalgic about rock ’n’ roll—especially if you were into shirtless dudes in cargo shorts yarling into a wireless mic about how hard it was to be a middle-class kid in Seattle. But if grunge wasn't your cup of tea, you had to look harder to find the real deal.

Luckily for San Jose, California, Cameron Crowe never considered shooting his 1992 film Singles there. If you lived in or around the South Bay Area at that time, the band Sleep was a best-kept secret. Before the seminal power-trio recorded its ’92 magnum opus, Holy Mountain, nobody else was turning Black Sabbath into a genre. Or a lifestyle. Back then, if you caught a Sleep show at the Cactus Club, beautiful longhaired girls in denim and corduroy bellbottoms gathered in front of the stage. There was even a stoner-rock store named after Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”—and this was before the phrase “stoner rock” was even coined.

Sleep had it all: an extra-sensory musical chemistry, room-rumbling riffs, hard-grooving songs, and the first-ever Matamp Green amplifiers—towering emerald-tolex boxes that distorted like God almighty was farting on your stupid grunge face. And when Sleep finally did get recognition, fans were stoked. Because nobody who loved Sleep was some 1992 indie kid who hated it when their favorite bands got the success and acclaim they deserved. How could you not unconditionally love an excruciatingly loud trio with lyrics about intergalactic dragons from Mars or dope-smoking, deep-space caravans gathering in the valley of the evil one? How could you not champion a band who, when they got signed to a major label, delivered a 73-minute-long song as their first album—and subsequently got dropped from said major label? How could you not praise a group that spawned epic bands like High on Fire, Om, and doom-rock supergroup Shrinebuilder?

Unlike most of those 21st-century festival darlings reuniting under the NO$TALGIA retirement plan, Sleep have followed up their reunion shows with a new recording. Their first in over 20 years. And you know what? That means they're no longer a reunion band. It means they're back. It’s not clear whether or not "The Clarity" hints at a future album, EP, or another one of those albums that’s more like a kick-ass doom-opera extendo-song. But why look a gift-bong in the bowl? This song sounds like a new and improved Sleep. Just shy of 10 minutes long, it opens on some lo-fi distortion before bassist Al Cisneros and guitarrorist Matt Pike birth a huge, throbbing, monstrous riff that pulses with a power not heard in previous Sleep songs. With Neurosis' Jason Roeder on drums, “The Clarity” rolls like a well-oiled juggernaut. On this journey, all three musicians bring with them the experience, musicianship, and knowledge that's been maturing on the vine for the past two decades. Now harvested, trimmed, and rolled into a titanic jay of the underworld, Sleep sound like they're ready to redefine a genre they helped ignite.