Review Summary: "Sleep's Holy Mountain" is easily the best Black Sabbath album since "Sabotage" was released.
Despite obviously reviewing San Jose's own Sleep, we must hang fire before we dive into the sludgy waters of the album itself, and instead give voice to their primary influence: Black Sabbath. Such is the blatant inspiration of Butler, Osbourne, Ward and Iommi upon the American (or Amerijuanican, as fellow stoner metallers Bongzilla might add) band that the very album itself manifests as a Satanic altar to the Brummie headbangers. This album, and in fact the entire stoner and doom metal genres themselves are testament to metal's Aston-bred grandfather figure.
'Dragonaut' boasts riffs that loom so heavy they sound as if forged in Birmingham factories (establishments not unlike those that iconically parted Tony Iommi from his fingertips). Replete with distorted vox and an endless barrage of groove, few albums have seen such a pertinent opener. Much of this LP defines stoner metal; taking the blues out of its swampy homeland (this long-player even features a bluegrass number by way of 'Some Grass') and fusing its Southern tragedy with the overdriven guitars of classic British metal. Other highlights of the record include 'The Druid', as vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros' hardcore shouts deliver an aura of aggression to the former half of the piece, whilst the latter surfaces as an impromptu jam, reminiscent of the early works of the band that most inspired them. Elsewhere, 'Evil Gypsy-Solomons Theme' is as terrifying as it is monolithic, and at over 7 minutes long is by no means the longest track on the album, especially when compared with the 10 minute plus 'From Beyond', dirgey instrumental passages lumbering like cannibalistic cannabinoid fiends through darkened desert.
The production is raw, and amidst walls of feedback the FX has subtle psychedelic hints-the chorused vocals, the wah-wah bass; it is only the lower guitar tunings and the occasionally thrashy vocal that separates the 1993 record from the 1970s era that inspired it. The chemistry of the players (Sleep recorded this album as but a humble power trio) is remarkable, as songs, riffs and bass-heavy instrumental sections morph effortlessly into one another like daemonic hashish mirages. A defining moment for the stoner and doom metal genres, and a trip (pun intended) down memory lane for the nostalgic metalhead mourning his marijuana-rich 70s heyday, memories as long as his hair. "Sleep's Holy Mountain" is not a comfortable climb, but for the more seasoned metaller, it is certainly a worthwhile one.