Feb 25, 2006 in Music
I’ve been getting back into metal lately. I spent my formative years as a teenage metalhead – albeit a rather dorky one, with a greasy mullet and a wardrobe consisting solely of sweatpants, “skater” pants and metal t-shirts that were often a tad too small for my bulky frame. I cut my teeth at the age of 12 with tapes by Twisted Sister and Motley Crue, lent to me by my slightly older but ever so cooler uncle. By the age of 15, I had dived full on into the thrash metal underground, guided by magazines with names like Metal Maniacs, college radio, and the few cool videos they managed to play on Headbangers Ball.
By the time I was 19, I had pretty much outgrown the genre, its glory days outshined by the grunge/alternative revolution. (Of course, just two years later I would abandon the now-hopelessly commercial “alternative” for the greener pastures of indie rock.) But nostalgia has a way of creeping up on you. I still consider Ride the Lightning to be my favorite Metallica album, and one that I have recently taken to listening to again. I still get a rush of adrenaline listening to Slayer’s Reign in Blood.
My interest in stoner metal was borne out of curiosity – one day I found myself browsing the genre on eMusic for reasons I can’t quite recall. Stoner metal bears obvious comparisons to the music of Black Sabbath: slow tempos, heavy riffs and the occasional solo. The Sabbath classic “Sweet Leaf,” their ode to Mary Jane, is the genesis for stoner metal.
Many stoner metal bands also bear a close relation to doom metal, another genre heavily influenced by Sabbath. Early 90s bands like Kyuss and Monster Magnet solidified the sound that would be dubbed stoner metal – detuned riffs, lengthy jams and heavy psychedelic leanings. And there’s the obvious affinity for marijuana, which becomes apparent in the titles and subject matter of the following albums.
I’ve sampled quite a few of the fruits of the stoner metal genre, and as far as I can tell, there are really very few albums truly worth owning for the non-metalhead. So, without further ado, here’s a non-metal fan’s guide to the essential stoner metal albums. All two of them.
Sleep - Jerusalem/Dopesmoker (1995)
Sleep’s breakthrough album, 1993’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain, was hailed as a doom metal juggernaut in it’s day. But it was their long-delayed follow-up that cemented their status as the ultimate stoner metal band.
Dopesmoker was a concept album with a single, 63-minute long track, reportedly conceived after the band blew their advance on vintage amplification and weed. The lyrics, what few of them there are, marry biblical themes with stoner mythology, replacing the Jews with a wandering tribe of dope smokers (”Weedians”) searching for “the riff-filled land”.
Musically, Dopesmoker is a plodding, droning, buzzing, mammoth opus that has more in common with Metal Machine Music than Black Sabbath Vol. 4. The opening chords slow the basic Black Sabbath riff down to a glacial crawl. From there on it’s 60 minutes of hypnotic, repetitive dirge, highlighted by the occasional guitar solo (the solos alone are worth the price of admission) or lyrical passage.
Sleep’s new record label, London, refused to release it, even in a shortened and resequenced version dubbed Jerusalem. The label soon dropped the band, who broke up shortly thereafter. Jerusalem was eventually released in 1999 to much acclaim. The full 60+ minute version, Dopesmoker, was remastered and released in 2003, and to this day stands as the definitive stoner metal album.
Julian Cope has a brilliant review of Dopesmoker at his site Head Heritage.
Electric Wizard - Dopethrone (2000)
Electric Wizard has been called “the heaviest band in the universe.” I can certainly say that Dopethrone is the fucking heaviest album I’ve ever heard. This was my introduction to the doom/stoner metal genre and the best metal album I’ve heard in years.
Dopethrone is so heavy that if it were any heavier, it would supernova upon itself. Electric Wizard had become known for massive doom metal opuses, but Dopethrone runs the gamut from the relatively brief opener “Vinum Sabbathi” to the 20 minute title track. The 15 minute “Weird Tales” trilogy begins with the thrashing “Electric Frost” and devolves into 12 minutes of Hawkwind-style space rock. The riffs on “Barbarian” and “Funeropolis” could saw through bone.
I mean, the guitar amp tones on this record are heavy. It’s the most impressive thing I’ve heard since I first picked up a My Bloody Valentine record, or listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. It makes me want to start a doom metal band of my own. Anyone got a huge amp for sale?