Although their career is far from prolific, each of Sleep’s towering releases makes a new crop of metalheads stop and take notice. Even without any new studio material in the last fifteen years, their legendary catalog has maintained their status as one of stoner metal’s most dominant forces. So, it’s difficult not to be captivated by the sheer scale of their hefty comeback record. With The Sciences, Sleep continues to draw from a long lineage of heavy metal mythos, but instead a dark fantasy setting, they’ve opted to craft an expansive science fiction saga, complete with detailed characters and fully realized narrative arcs.
After a decade and a half of near radio silence, it’s no wonder that Sleep’s long-awaited follow up to their 2003 opus Dopesmoker is itself a manifestation of foaming anticipation. Right from the fuzzy continual build of instrumental opening track ”The Sciences,” the listener is bombarded with the buzz and rumble of the rocket preparing to blast off into the cosmos. From the slow, calculated drive of the creeping bass groove on “Sonic Titan” to ambling psychedelia bleeding into a lumbering rage on “Antarcticans Thawed,” The Sciences forces its audience to wait patiently for its emotional release, until they are practically begging for it.
But for Sleep, the alchemy is and always has been in their expertly constructed storytelling. Every detail of this world is carefully mapped out, with a recognizable and justified transformation from start to finish. The anthology begins with “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” an eerie tale of isolation told between space-age guitar licks and moves toward deeply textured world building on tracks like plodding, meditative “Giza Butler,” which references Dune the way other metal bands allude to Middle Earth.
By this point in Sleep’s career, they could almost be deemed a supergroup, with each of its seasoned members working on their own imposing projects outside of the band and bringing the influence from their other efforts into The Sciences. The record becomes an interesting concoction the likes of which has never been present on a Sleep record, as Al Cisneros (Om), Matt Pike (High on Fire), and Jason Roeder (Neurosis) all toss flavors from their other musical endeavors into this unique stew. As the album draws to a close, the menacing, invasive genre-bender “The Botanist” serves as an adroit showcase of the band’s harmonious chemistry, with each member afforded a well-earned moment in the spotlight.
In case it was ever in question, The Sciences reclaims Sleep’s legacy after all these years of hibernation. From beginning to end, it is a hypnotic ride that expertly avoids the monotony which has proved to be an inescapable pitfall for so many doom metal acts in the past. This isn’t simply a great comeback record for Sleep; it stands amongst the most captivating releases in the band’s storied discography.