The Electric Sleep

REVIEW: sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998)

sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998 Rise Against Records)

Last time, we talked about the “moment of epiphany” when I first heard this band.  This is my favourite album by Sheavy, choice band from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Electric Sleep is an intense listen, throbbing and bottom-heavy, but it’s especially striking for its similarity to early Black Sabbath.  My buddy Tom often said that this seemed like it should have been the next Sabbath album, as if Ozzy never left in 1979.  I disagreed, as I found it to be more the mold of earlier period Sabbath.  It doesn’t matter; if hearing a band that sounds pretty much exactly like the original Black Sabbath offends you in any way, then don’t listen to Sheavy.

The album opens with “Virtual Machine”, and Steve Hennessey’s distorted computerized yowl is mesmerizing.  The riff detonates, it’s a keeper, and Sheavy have kicked me in the buttocks with the first track.  “Velvet” abruptly changes the landscape to something more acoustic, atmospheric.  A Sabbath analog would be a song like “Solitude”, for example.  But then “Destiny’s Rainbow” arrives to kick your posterior again once you’re getting too comfortable.

“Electric Sleep”, the title track, recalls “Hand of Doom” from Paranoid.  “Born In A Daze” has a groovier feel.  You know how Sabbath kind of got a bit groovier on Never Say Die?  Songs like “Junior’s Eyes”?  Maybe Tom’s right, and maybe this album does sound like a followup to Never Say Die at times.

My favourite song is the stormy “Automaton”.  This one actually reminds me of early Queensryche lyrically, when they were still singing about computers and robots and other cool stuff:

If all the secrets they’ve been hoping to find,
Unlock the programs buried deep in my mind,
And am I human or just a robot slave?
They sent me here so their world I could save, yeah-ahh!

Musically, “Automaton” is also the least Sabbath-like.   The riff is swift, stout and precise, but not very Iommi, which is fine.  And there’s a cool slide guitar hook that recurs in the song which helps give it a unique sound.  This one’s a winner:  my favourite Sheavy song, period.

That’s a hard act to follow, but Sheavy do so with the mournful “Savannah…Flights of Ecstasy”.  In his best vintage Ozzy delivery, Hennessey laments the loss of someone close:

She forgot to breathe,
She forgot it was make believe,
Can’t avoid her eyes,
Never cared for long goodbyes.

If I had to compare this to a Black Sabbath song, it would actually be “Lonely Is the Word”, from Heaven and Hell.  Hennessey’s Ozzy stylings aside, musically this has the same kind of vibe…until it gets heavy and riffy close to the end.  Then suddenly it’s Vol. 4.  

“Saving Me” gets the heads banging, but “Oracle” is something else.  Beginning with a didgeridoo (an instrument that Black Sabbath definitely never used), it’s obvious that this song is a carbon copy of “Black Sabbath” itself.  The riff is the same “devil’s triad”.  Throw in some cool Jimmy Page “Dazed and Confused” wah-wah guitar licks on top and you have an idea of what this mash-up sounds like.

The album closes with “Stardust” and “Last Parade”, a duo of heaviness 15 minutes in length total.  “Stardust” itself is loaded with guitars, no less than eight players are credited on it!

I think if this album wasn’t so derivative of the original Black Sabbath, it would be worth 4.5 stars due to the sheer quality.  However, I think I have to knock off half a point simply because you can play “name that Sabbath song” for several tracks.  Although Uncle Meat says the same is true for moments of Black Sabbath’s new album 13, I’m going to give Sheavy…

4/5 stars

Part 204: An Introduction to sHEAVY

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Back then in the olden days, you were actually expected to type that whole url into your browser!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 204:  An Introduction to sHEAVY

MARCH, 2000.  Saturday night.  One of our store owners was throwing a house party.  Tom, being the usual musical selector at parties, put a cassette on for me.  He rewound to the beginning and hit “play”.

“Mike,” he said, wild-eyed with excitement.  “One of my customers gave me this tape.  It’s the new Ozzy.  It’s not out yet.  This is a bootleg copy.”

This intense, guitar heavy distortion faded in.  The voice, also distorted and processed, was a dead ringer for a young Ozzy!

“Ozzy’s singing great, isn’t he?” Tom inquired mischievously.

“That’s not Zakk Wylde on guitar,” I retorted.  “I’d know if it was Zakk, and that guy’s not Zakk.”

Tom faltered.  “That’s, uhhh, the new guy.”

I called bullshit.  “This isn’t Ozzy.  It sounds a hell of a lot like early Sabbath, and it’s really good, but it’s not Ozzy.”

“Fuck!” Tom spat out.  “I can’t believe you got it so fast.  When I heard it, I truly thought it was new Ozzy at first.  At least the way the new Ozzy should be, you know what I mean?  Hear all that fuckin’ Sabbath going on there?”

I did indeed hear all the Sabbath going on.  In fact, of all the bands that people hyped to me as being “Sabbath-y”, this band came closest.

The band is from St John’s, Canada, and they are called Sheavy.  They kicked serious ass.  The album we were listening to was 1998’s The Electric Sleep.  The song:  “Virtual Machine”.  Often found on many bit torrent sites as a “lost” Black Sabbath reunion song.  It is not.  It is Sheavy, and that’s how close they nail the vintage Black Sabbath sound.

sHEAVY_0003The singer is a fellow named Steve Hennessey, and according to the CD booklet, he once had an audition with Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath’s then-producer, Bob Marlette!  What could that have been for?  An Iommi solo album, or Sabbath itself?  The CD doesn’t reveal.  “Special thanks to Tony Iommi, Bob Marlette, Ralph Baker and Paul Loasby for the audition and an experience I will never forget,” is all it says!  He nails every inflection that Ozzy used to do, it’s that uncanny.

I marveled at the music, and decided to buy it the next day.  I ordered it from Amazon along with Jalamanta, the first solo album from then-Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork.  (Even though I worked in a record store, there was no point in trying to order obscurities like these through our supplier.)  When they arrived, I was blown away by both.  I occasionally brought Sheavy to the store to play at work, and many people asked if this was the new Sabbath or the new Ozzy.  “Nope,” I’d say.  “This is a band from Newfoundland and Labrador called Sheavy.  They’re awesome.”

Unfortunately for a Canadian band, their albums were really hard to find!  A little while later, I picked up the next album, Celestial Hi-Fi, on Japanese import, from HMV.  The bonus track “Nine December” is an asskicker that made it worth the extra cash.  They’re just an awesome band, and they grew past the Sabbath-clone tag after a couple albums.  Unfortunately, toiling away in relative obscurity for almost 20 years has taken its toll, and the band’s future is uncertain.  For that reason I’m grateful they’ve left many great albums behind.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at The Electric Sleep in a detailed review.  Check back soon.