Sleep With All Souls and Bell Witch At The Wiltern, Friday June 8th 2018
Going to a Sleep concert is like traveling to another planet, it’s a transcendental experience, and they truly know it: the band got on stage at the Wiltern theater at some sound bites of the NASA communicating with a space mission, then an astronaut in spacesuit cleaned up the stage when the show was over. These stone rockers could be the last sonic titans – it is 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.
Before Sleep, All Souls opened the night at the Wiltern with an energetic set of heavy melodic rock. They obviously aimed to the epic with emotional and meandrous numbers which were keeping a sort of diabolic side. Some openings had this 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 2 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. Someone told me it was very meditative music, and he could have been right, there definitively was a ritualistic, spiritual, even religious aspect in their super-slow doom metal, but since the black and white macabre footages projected in the background were the opposite of cheerful, I was mostly thinking about a funeral procession. May be 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.
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 2 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 at the sound of Matt Pike’s menacing guitar, Al Cisneros’ heavy bass and powerful chanted vocals, completed by Jason Roeder’s all fired-up drumming. The band is like a miracle, after 3 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 groves 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.