Though Asbestosdeath only recorded four songs in its brief existence, the band’s output is the venomous seedling that would eventually morph into the gnarled oak of the Bay Area stoner-metal scene. Three quarters of Asbestosdeath — bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, drummer Chris Hakius, and guitarist Matt Pike — would go on to form Sleep, commonly cited as one of the innovators of bong-riffery in the early ’90s. Pike would later found the Neanderthalic metal outfit High on Fire, Cisneros and Hakius wafted skywards on a cloud of pot smoke with Om, and second guitarist Thomas Choi joined latter-day toke ‘n’ roll metallurgists Operator Generator.
And even if Asbestosdeath is better known for what it spawned than for the music it made, more than just history seeps out of the four tracks on this compilation of the band’s Dejection and Unclean seven-inches from 1990. Each track is primo doom metal in the style of Eyehategod, Noothgrush or early Melvins, corralling sludgy Sabbath ooze into slo-mo riff collages. Asbestosdeath’s sound was less distinctive than what was to come, but it was also a lot harder-edged, too. When the band reformed as Sleep, the ash-covered lava flow of these songs was redirected into bong-resin space jams — at this point, Cisneros and Choi’s throat-ripping howls had more in common with hardcore’s sound and misanthropy (choice lyric from “Nail”: “Skull/ Grinding/ Shattering/ The drained carcass of humankind remains”) than stoner metal’s blissed-out psychedelia.
A thin veneer of dust and grime smothers the sound on Dejection/Unclean, giving it the feel of the historical document that it is. It’s as if an old rotting house were collapsing around Asbestosdeath as it played. And it’s probably better that way, because if we heard Dejection/Unclean in a more pristine sonic setting, we’d all need to buy some new pants.