“Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to-uh the riff-filled land”
Dopesmoker is baws out, the greatest album ever made. One song, over an hour long, louder than anything made before or after, has more doom in it than a thousand dying stars. Under a violent cacophony of green titanic low-end weedstortion we are sung, via guttural roars, a sonnet about weedsmen escorting a massive caravan through the desert towards Jerusalem to deliver a massive cargo of weed.
“Lungsmen unearth the creed of Hasheeshian
Procession of the Weed-Priests to cross the sands”
Chris Hakius drums, Al Cisneros bass/vox and Matt Pike guitar, previously spent band life trying to continue where Sabbath had stopped in the mid to late 70s, making decent Black Sabbath albums. Holy Mountain is an album that is in its own right rather good, however it’s nothing compared to Dopesmoker. You see, with Dopesmoker SLEEP did what few bands ever do, and ascended to the godhead of music, into the black sun of sound and joined the other great bands of history in unleashing onto the world a work of such perfection only one thing could come next: glory. Yet no joy met Sleep, only oblivion. London Records butchered their album, releasing a shite version called 'Jerusalem' that was chopped up into six songs. Rightly, the band split up and until now no legitimate version has ever been available bar the rarer-than-the-holy-grail London Records promo from 1999 and T.P's 2003 band-approved release. Sure, I have been listening to the TP release, something the band said “was close” to their version for nearly ten years. I’ve never been bothered considering that release is my favourite album of all time. So when I heard Southern Lord along with SLEEP were involved in a release of the band's true vision of the album, I came for a whole day, ending up in the Southern General through severe spunkage.
“Herb bails retied on to backs of beasts
Arise arise arise - The Son of the God of Israel”
Southern Lord has righted a wrong with this release. Brad Boatright (From Ashes Rise) has been brought on board to master Billy Anderson’s master-class production. Watch the 'Such Hawks Such Hounds' documentary to hear this living legend's take on what went on with the making of the album. Arik Roper again delivers another eye-fuckingly brilliant cover, this one perhaps even better than the ‘Cthulhu on a horse with a snake sword' cover for the T.P's release.
“Stoner caravan emerge from sandsea
Earthling inserts to chalice the green cutchie”
So what is this album like compared to the one you already own? Bass, drums, vocals, guitars, guitars, guitars, guitars, guitars and guitars are improved. It may be my imagination, but for me Boatright has made everything in this album sound divinely better: dark crystal-clear, yet still retaining its harsh, lush, shredderiffic verve. Al Cisneros' vocals are now louder in the mix; clearer, fiercer. Pike allegedly recorded over fifty tracks of guitars on Dopesmoker. Every one of them sounds even more apocalyptic and mighty here, and his solos as wanktastic as ever. Yet it's Hakius's drum cavalcade that is surely the dominant core to the song.
“Seed of Eden fall on nurtured soil
Onward caravan prepare new bong”
T.P’s release was, until now, as good as you got. Yet for all its greatness, it was a sonic Lovecraftian monster, all of it a single entity rolling along, loud and violently magnificent, yet always retaining the bootleg factor. Southern Lord's release has us now hearing, almost visualizing the band in the studio: less smoke, less fog. Now we can hear everything and we know, this is the band's version. This shit is legit. This is Dopesmoker.
“Judgement soon come to Mankind
Green Herbsmen serve rightful king”
It feels like victory, this release. Victory for the band and the fans. In the past I'd always revisit T.P's release to get lost in its overwhelming hypnotic storm of fuck. On my first listen I couldn't believe how colossal it sounded, how slow it was. And yet, it all seemed to happen really fast, like being on a train out your tits: looking outside, you can see the world flying by. Faster and faster, cows and pylons and roads and towns blurring into a smear. I cannot imagine many bands could create such a work, or even be bothered to attempt to undertake a mission like this, let alone succeed. Perhaps, like Dopesmoker's creedsmen crossing the vast desert to bring the precious herb to the holy city of Jerusalem, someone will one day have the courage and fortitude to deliver a similar payload to the people. Yet at what cost?
“Rides out believer with the spliff aflame
Marijuanaut escapes earth to cultivate”
Southern Lord released an album today that was better than the best album I had ever heard. I've been listening to this version for a week or two. It's an album by the same band. To all intents and purposes, it's the same album. By rights it shouldn't be better because the previous version was near flawless. Yet it is. This is the album that should have come out in 1999, before the last millennium ended. I cannot shake how weird it feels listening to a superior version. Falling in love all over again.
“The caravan holds to Eastern Creed - Now smokes believer!
The Chronicle of the Sensimillian”
On the 2003 release, MOJO stated that Dopesmoker was a benchmark by which all that dares call itself stoner rock must surely be judged. I disagree; ALL MUSIC should be judged next to this work of sonic magnificence.
“Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to-uh the riff-filled land
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Posted: Tue 8 May 2012