Review and Photos by ALYSON CAMUS
Sleep is one of those bands that affects different people in different ways.
Most people at The Wiltern were listening to the music of Sleep as if it were a transcendental experience. Others moshed to the sound of Matt Pike’s menacing guitar, Al Cisneros’ powerful chanted vocals, and Jason Roeder’s all-fired-up drumming.
Such opposite reactions may seem strange, but going to a Sleep concert like this one on June 8 at The Wiltern is also like traveling to another planet, and the band knows it. They got on stage during some sound bytes of NASA communicating with a space mission and an astronaut cleaned up the stage when the show was over.
These stone rockers could be the last sonic titans – it’s even the title of one of their songs – amped-to-the-max, they act like sound warriors trying to reach deep space or move mountains in one sludgy psychedelic metal trip, but despite the title of their opening track, ‘Marijuanaut’s Theme,’ no drug is required.
All Souls and Bell Witch
Before Sleep, All Souls opened the night at the Wiltern with an energetic set of heavy melodic rock. They obviously aimed to for epic with emotional and meandrous numbers which were keeping a sort of diabolic side.
Some openings had a desert stoner vibe, not unlike an old Queens of the Stone Age or Kyuss song, with charging guitars and thunderous drums, some truly moody music blending emotions with aggression thanks to the deep cohesion between the members of the band.
If all of them first discussed working together way back in 1994, vocalist/guitarist Tony Aguilar and bassist Meg Castellanos (of Alma Sangre and Totimoshi) apparently waited more than two decades to form the band with drummer Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson, The Desert Sessions, Linda Perry) and guitarist Erik Trammel (Black Elk), and to record their self-titled full-length debut, All Souls, under the direction of producer Toshi Kasai (Tool, The Melvins, Foo Fighters). The result was stormy, creative and dark, while bringing a large dose of mystery and stoner rock mysticism.
Seattle-based duo Bell Witch followed the smashing All Souls, and, in comparison, they almost sounded like a religious experience, despite their semi-satanic side.
They were very minimalist, using only two instruments on stage – Dylan Desmond on bass and Jesse Shreibman on drums – but they had a formidable sound, starting very slowly and softly on guitar like a Mogwai opening, before exploding to powerful heights with the first powerful crushing beat on the drumset.
They started so slowly that I thought they would never start singing or do anything else, and, if they barely changed the pace, the duo created very mournful, heavily sad music, so slowly developing it was as if every note played had been frozen in time during the black mess of some mystic cult. The very dramatic and crushing drumming rarely accelerated during the entire set, while a lugubrious organ music and beast-like satanic vocals joined the mix to complete their very sludgy music.
Maybe they were the real Sleep band, carrying the depressive thoughts of the entire humanity on their shoulders, but they were nevertheless acclaimed by a cheerful ‘Fuck You’ coming from the crowd, after half an hour.
Are Sleep Songs Really Even ‘Songs?’
Can you even call a Sleep’s song, ‘a song’, we must come up with another name for this meandrous beast that doesn’t give up before piling up sludgy riffs at the top of each other, while a monumental distorted bass is tearing your guts apart for 10 or 15 minutes.
Sleep were acclaimed like heroes when they took the stage, and if they played only 8 songs, their set lasted almost two hours… this is already something remarkable. Sleep is certainly for heavy rock lovers and slow head bangers, and many Black Sabbath and other Satan worshippers had invaded the pit to form a mean moshing party. The band is like a miracle, after three albums in the ‘90s, they literally slept for a few decades and woke up a few years ago, even releasing a new album this year, ‘The Sciences,’ unexpectedly through Jack White’s Third Man Records.
There was something really wild and powerful all-set long, while an army of devil-horn hands was constantly rising from the crowd to complete the scenery. The two men barely moved during the entire time, while Pike, with his bare chest and back covered by tattoos, showed the most on-stage agitation,… but who cares about antics when you have such stage presence!
The music had a monotonous side, a monolithic-like sound, as mysteriously tall and menacingly erected as this big black thing in 2001 A Space Odyssey, and if they were not afraid of repetitive riffs and mantra-like vocals, they certainly were not afraid of length, digging deep grooves into their listeners’ weed-imbued minds. I don’t smoke weed, although it wasn’t difficult to realize that all this business – ‘Marijuanaut’s Theme’, ‘Holy Mountain,’ ‘The Clarity’ – was surely addressed to cannabis-trippers, while making you lose any sense of space and time… in all directions.
After a few hours of this, the music sounded like a dark ritual, a religious experience doom to the core, with a mosh pit to celebrate and an indescribable and almost experimental sonic complexity. But it was inside this complexity of roaring chords amplified by distortion that people had found perfect freedom.