The seminal stoner metal band Sleep has been dormant nearly 20 years while the side projects of guitarist Matt Pike (High on Fire) and vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros (Om) took the spotlight. There had been rumors and rumblings, the occasional tour and a new single, but year after year no album materialized. Some Sleep fans were skeptical, but it’s not out of character for the band to move at sloth’s pace. It’s also not out of character for the band to eschew a Record Store Day release in favor of a surprise “4/20” release date.
Thankfully, the wait wasn’t wasted. The Sciences is a behemoth of an album. It’s crushingly heavy and glacially slow but maintains the band’s meditative aesthetic. The riffs are hypnotic in their repetitive lumbering, each built on a strong foundation of psychedelic blues. New drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis) adds a percussive stride that goads Pike and Cisneros into bolder experimentation on tracks like “The Botanist” and “Antarticans Thawed” and drives the aggressive riffs of “Giza Butler.”
The writing on the album is heavily focused on the music over the lyrics which, when present, are delivered with Cisneros’s mantra-like chanting. But like Jerusalem, there is a sort of story underlying the album. What lyrics there are expand on the band’s existing mythology, calling back references to the holy mountain, marijuanauts, and the sonic titan. There’s also a lot of Sabbath worship, A LOT of Sabbath worship. This is a narrative where Tony Iommi is the namesake of a religion, a planet and a layer of atmosphere (it’s safe to guess what that atmosphere consists of). Such slavish idolatry would be cringe worthy if the album was taking itself seriously, but this is an album about a marijuana-powered astronaut who may or may not actually just be a stoned-off-his-ass hippy living under an overpass.
The Sciences might be Sleep’s strongest effort. The music is nothing short of trance-inducing and the album itself is rife with codes and hidden references that might lead fans down a conspiracy laden rabbit hole but are never actually meaningful. It’s the sonic equivalent of getting high and that, perhaps, is the highest praise that can be offered a Sleep album.