Trilobites. Plesiosaurs. The double-record, gatefold, vinyl LP. One would assume they were all extinct, rendered obsolete, yanked from the gene pool because, frankly, they just couldn't compete with flashy new life forms like mammals and compact discs.
First brought to prominence by the Beatles and then perpetuated by the likes of Yes and Led Zeppelin throughout the '70s, the behemoth double LP inevitably could not support its own weight; when the 1980s hit like a comet, they virtually vanished. Double albums became notorious as symbols of decadence and gratuitous rock ego. After all, what exactly is a band trying to say with a double record? "Puny mortals! Our vast and epic awesomeness cannot be contained by a mere single LP!" Vinyl records, however, are still being made and bought -- the format has been kept alive by punks, indie kids and DJs during this ice age of digital sound -- but the wasteful, costly double LP has all but withered away like a vestigial appendage.
But lo! What is this thunder that doth churn the very soil underneath us? Dinosaurs, it appears, trudge the earth once more.
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Shivering King and Others, by Washington DC's Dead Meadow, and Dopesmoker, by San Jose's Sleep, are two new releases that just so happen to be vinyl double albums. Both come in glossy gatefold sleeves adorned with mythic, over-the-top artwork: The cover of Shivering King is a swirling collage of necromantic imagery and sword-vomiting alchemists, while Dopesmoker displays a painting of a monstrous, scimitar-wielding Moor and his four-headed steed on a holy quest to fuck up some Crusaders and score a killer ball of hash. Both albums also fully live up to the musical birthright of the double LP, tapping into the ponderous majesty that was the Jurassic era of rock.
Shivering King is Dead Meadow's third and most crushing studio album, a murky and moss-choked swamp of psychedelia. On the opening track "I Love You Too," the Pangaea of all blues riffs grinds beneath Jason Simon's breathy, elfin vocals; the ensuing drone oscillates between Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and Spacemen 3. It's not all volume and distortion, though -- the title cut is a trance-inducing dirge, complete with incantations, acoustic guitars and the musky after-odor of velvet bedsheets and incense.
Dopesmoker takes the whole stoner-rock concept to a grueling extreme. The first three sides of the double album constitute one hour-long epic: Imagine "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" stretched out on the rack until tendons distend and muscles snap. Guitarist Matt Pike, an ex-Denverite who now helms the mighty High on Fire (appearing Monday, July 7, at the Climax Lounge), makes power chords and full stacks sound like galaxies colliding. An alternate recording of the album was originally released in 1998 as Jerusalem, but this version is somehow even rawer and sludgier. Sleep, now defunct, bowed before the altar of Tony Iommi, but also owed a heavy debt to its mid-'90s contemporaries Kyuss and Neurosis. The bellowed first verse of Dopesmoker pretty much says it all: "Drop out of life, bong in hand!/Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land!"
Of course, both Dopesmoker and Shivering King are available on measly single CDs, but the compressed sound and shrunken artwork of the compact-disc format in no way do justice to the sprawling ambition of these two albums. Like walnut-brained brontosaurs sunk in tar pits, Sleep and Dead Meadow are perfectly preserved fossils of a time when unicorns were cool, drugs were religion and not even petroleum shortages could stay the onslaught of the leviathan double LP.