Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 39: Sleep “Live At Third Man Records” (2019)

The 39th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in March of 2019. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its Platinum members every three months.

The 39th Vault package contained a 4-LP live set from the stoner-metal band Sleep, recorded directly to acetate at Third Man Records in Nashville on December 12, 2018. The four LP’s in this set were pressed in different colors of vinyl: one blue, one green, one purple, and one orange.

Sleep are a California trio who recorded three albums in the 1990’s. The trio’s latest album The Sciences, their first in two decades, was released by Third Man Records in 2018. Their brand of heavy metal is the slow-moving and murky kind, resembling early Black Sabbath played at 16 rpm. The lengths of their songs will often make you feel like you’re living back in the prog ‘70’s; for example, the third and final album they recorded in the ‘90’s, titled Dopesmoker, consisted of one long 63-minute track that put Iron Butterfly’s old “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to shame. Sleep’s music may well be an intentional throwback to those early days of heavy metal, when the performers and the listeners were so stoned out of their minds that they lost all sense of time. For those of us who are clean and sober, Sleep’s music is not as boring as it may sound, as their detached doom-metal jams are often hypnotic.

The Sleep lineup on Live At Third Man Records consists of original bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, original guitarist Matt Pike, and current drummer Jason Roeder (formerly of Neurosis, replacing original Sleep drummer Chris Hakius).

The nearly two-hour live set recorded at Third Man is divided up into seven album sides on this quadruple-LP (the second side of the orange-colored fourth disc is blank). For the uninitiated, Sleep’s lengthy, fuzzy metal jams take some getting used to, but this album will give them plenty of time to do that. The 16-minute opening track/side “Leagues Beneath” begins with a six-minute intro of repetitive feedback-drenched buildup, before gaining intensity in its second half. The second track, “Dopesmoker”, also begins with a lengthy instrumental intro before becoming more intense in its second half, but on this track, the guitars take on more of a grinding buzzsaw tone as they drone along. (At approximately 22 total minutes, that track is about 41 minutes shorter than its studio version, though it still gets broken up between Sides B and C – and Side B ends with a locked groove, so Part One can actually go on forever!). “The Clarity” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme” have a similar buzzsaw grind, but they also have more variance, and they turn into fairly impressive space-jams of Hawkwind-like proportions. “Giza Butler” and “The Botanist” have more tuneful distortion, so to speak, and are somewhat reminiscent of Deep Purple. Most of the song selections are taken from the band’s recent material, but three of them – “Holy Mountain”, “Aquarian”, and “Dragonaut” – were drawn from their 1992 album Sleep’s Holy Mountain. Those three tracks stand out the most here. Although their lengths are still long, those selections are tighter and less repetitive than most of the other tracks. Amusingly, the final track “Dragonaut” also ends with a locked groove, like Side B. So, until you manually lift the needle from the turntable, you will hear an infinite loop of droning distortion, a la Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

One downside of the set: Cisneros’ vocals and Pike’s guitar solos tend to get buried in the heavy distortion. It’s hard to say for sure if this was caused by the direct-to-acetate recording process, or if it is simply an accurate reproduction of the show’s sound.

Considering the lengths of the tracks and of the entire set, it’s surprising how little time seems to pass while listening to Sleep’s Live At Third Man Records – but still, you should probably take breaks between listening to some of the sides, so that the album does not become an overlong ordeal. For fans of Sleep or their related bands (i.e. Neurosis, Om, High On Fire), this live set is possibly a must-have.

The two bonus items in this package are a reproduction of the promo poster for the show, and an embroidered Sleep/TMR "mission" logo patch.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. This quadruple-LP has “Every Copy Gets A Toddler” carved in Side A, “That Should Be The Cover” carved in Side B, “So I Don’t Have To Make A Model?” carved in Side C, “Psy-Ops” carved in Side D, “Change Your Ringtone To The Beach Boys” carved in Side E, “No Mask” carved in Side F, and “It’s Not A Zoetrope” carved in Side G.

Sleep - Live at Third Man Records

Sleep “Live At Third Man Records” (Third Man TMR-596) 2019

Track Listing:

Side A:

1. Leagues Beneath (16:30)

Side B:

2. Dopesmoker (Part One) (19:42)

Side C:

3. Dopesmoker (Part Two) (2:46)
4. Holy Mountain (10:23)

Side D:

5. The Clarity (11:02)
6. Aquarian (9:08)

Side E:

7. Sonic Titan (13:35)

Side F:

8. Marijuanaut’s Theme (7:33)
9. Giza Butler (10:44)

Side G:

10. The Botanist (5:00)
11. Dragonaut (∞)

Reviews of other Third Man Vault packages