Just when the prospect of a new Sleep album started feeling like a doom metal Chinese Democracy, the stoner doom legends suddenly dropped their first album in fifteen years on April 20th, 2018. The idea of the original marijuanauts releasing a new album on 4/20 is the kind of joke that The Hard Times would reject for being too on the nose, yet here we are. The execution of this massive cliché was timed so perfectly and met with such enthusiasm that you just can’t help but applaud it.
Once Matt Pike finishes his guitar sound check on the awkwardly ambient title track, it becomes clear that The Sciences serves as a meeting point between Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the infamous Dopesmoker. Elements of the former can be seen in the upbeat swing on “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and the “Nain’s Baptism” instrumental calmness of “The Botanis,t” while the latter is most notably echoed in the cavernous drones of “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed.” The meditative “Giza Butler” is the album’s wild card, boasting atmospheric melodies that I like to think had their roots in Al Cisneros’ time with the illustrious Shrinebuilder.
As expected, the musicianship is stellar. Pike’s guitar is somehow rawer and cracklier than it had been in Sleep’s early days (possibly High on Fire related), but it’s fantastic to see him playing with the same tuning and riffing style without it sounding forced. Al Cisneros’s bass still provides groovy counterpoints despite not being as reliant on wah as he used to be, and his melodic vocals are somehow as commanding as they are zoned out. Drummer Jason Roeder may be a questionable factor for some by nature of not being Chris Hakius, but he proves to be a tight fit with a slew of intricate patterns.
Aside from the unnecessarily drawn out opening, the actual song choices may be the closest thing I have to a nitpick. It’s easy to see why “The Clarity” isn’t on here as it works as a standalone single but considering how “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” had been kicked around since at least the days of Jerusalem, it makes one wonder why those three songs weren’t released as an EP in 2014. But you really can’t complain when the results are this well written and amazing performed.
The Sciences is exactly what you would expect a Sleep album in 2018 to sound like. But in contrast to something like Black Sabbath’s 13, nothing about it sounds calculated or pandering. It’s a natural composite of the musicians’ initial run together, with enough sprinklings of subsequent projects to keep it from sounding like a complete retread. Some will inevitably deem this album too predictable, but it feels welcome even in an age where every other band has a “Dragonaut” up their sleeve. Peers and proteges in Electric Wizard and The Sword have fallen to the creative wayside at the hands of their own imitators, but Sleep is eternal. Praise Iommi.