Live Review : Sleep + Pharaoh Overlord @ O2 Ritz, Manchester on October 5th 2019
As I skipped out of my house filled with excitement and expectation, I found it hard to describe to my disparaging other half just how important Sleep are. A clumsy “they are the Doom Metal Beatles” is as far as I got and whilst a lazy comparison, it is actually rather apt. if you are currently producing or have produced anything in even a vague orbit of Doom, then you will have been influenced by “Holy Mountain”. This includes tonight’s openers Pharaoh Overlord, who are actually bonkers Finish post-rockers Circle getting a mutual love of stoner rock out of their collective systems. It is very obvious that Jussi, Janne and Tomi are all huge Sleep fanboys and they still haven’t quite got their heads around the fact that they are opening for the mutha-fucking godfathers of stoner rock. They produce grinding riffs that are complemented by dark synth sections stolen from their day jobs. It’s not bad, but it equally doesn’t quite soar and suffers from falling between two stools. Frankly its not primal enough to truly be authentic sludge and you can hear the shuffling feet of an impatient audience desperate for the headliner, and oh my what a headliner,
The clouds of anticipation in the Ritz are thick, as are the clouds caused by the copious dubious substances that audience members have managed to get past the over-exuberant security. An intro made up of the radio recordings from the Apollo 11 moon landing kicks in, a large number of bearded forty plus year olds lose their shit completely and suddenly there they are there in front of us, the greatest doom Metal band of them all, Sleep. The last time they were in this city was 1993 at the late lamented Jilly’s and a hell of a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but blooming heck they are still magnificent. The beauty of Sleep is the simplicity. If you look carefully there is actually not much here, but god do Mike, Al and Jason produce absolute wondrous sounds with what they have got. Mike’s riffs are long, drawn-out and absolutely mesmerising. They rumble out of his guitar and hang in the air long after he has finished tormenting the strings. There is nothing throw-away here, every note is majestic, slow and purposeful.
The vast majority of the set is taken from last’s year unexpectedly triumphant comeback record “The Sciences” and live, tracks such as ‘Sonic Titan' and 'Giza Butler' sound even more magnificent than they did on record. The former unfurls like a reverberating juggernaut, resplendent in low thumbing bass and grinding guitar. On record 'Sonic Titan‘ clocks in at over twelve minutes, live it seems to cause time itself to stop, as we are plunged into an eternal loop of lingering protracted tones. As one, the audience close their eyes and allow themselves to be swept away in the Kaleidoscope of swirling hypnotic noise. The utter wonder is that the material from “The Sciences” (and non-album newbies 'The League Beneath’ and 'The Clarity’) manage to hold their own against the gigantic magnificence of songs from “Holy Mountain”. We only get the title track (which is strung out in length and allowed to penetrate our collective minds) and set closer 'Dragonaut’, but who is complaining when you are talking about two of the finest pieces of Doom ever committed to record. The distinctive opening refraining of 'Dragonaut’ drives the Ritz crazy, as the reverential crowd sways as one, letting the pulsating slates of heaviness infect their bodies. Like every other track tonight, it is stretched out well beyond its recorded length, allow every deliciously slow brooding morsel to be consumed by the baying throng. And then with a solitary “thank you Manchester” from Al, they are gone. I know I keep going over this, but the importance of Sleep for our music cannot be denied or underplayed. Tonight, they showed a rapt room of believers not just why they are held in such reverence, but also that they still have bloody got it. Utterly amazing.
Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Paul Nash of Rebel Rock Photography