Review Summary: With frightening amounts of devotion, Sunn O))) create an album full of pure, unadulterated dark magic."I still have yet to find what is so good about this band...it still sounds like noise to me."
- Sputnikmusic user "Shattered_Future" on Black One
He may be onto something.
With each release, drone doom band Sunn O))), in addition to somewhat surprisingly gaining near-universal critical acclaim, seem to draw from each critic and listener the claim that they've finally made their "accessible album". 2009's excellent Monoliths & Dimensions
, with its gradual ascent towards orchestral instrumentation, came the closest to this goal, allowing the skeptics a way in to their bleak, epic walls of drone by interspersing it with serene and even beautiful passages. Despite being seen as a slight change in direction for the band, 2005's Black One
does not do this. Instead, it refines and amplifies the drone and noise techniques shown on the band's earlier releases, allowing for a listen that more clearly shows the band's strengths, and diminishing its weaknesses.
So, getting past the fact that Sunn O))) are in no way easily likable for the casual listener may make it easier to address possible criticisms aimed towards the band. In all fairness, the band is pretty easy to make fun of: their band name is based off their favorite brand of amplifiers. Their concerts consist of members wearing capes while playing single chords held out for minutes at painfully high volumes. Hell, just look at how they address themselves on the album: Greg Anderson is given the moniker "Mystik Fogg Invokator", while Stephen O'Malley goes by, among others, "MK Ultra Blizzard", "Drone Slut", and "Caveman Skillz". It all inevitably points to musical self-seriousness of preposterous proportions. Which, as many seem to forget, is the point. The band acknowledge their ridiculousness by subtly pestering their detractors, giving them more and more reasons to make fun of themselves, while quietly laughing it off.
So, when Black One
was released, it came as a bit of a surprise that the band managed to delicately enhance all of the best aspects of their music and release it in a comprehensive package, devoid of highly experimental tracks like White2
's "bassAliens" or self-referential pieces (prior to Black One
, five studio album tracks had "O)))" in their title). The band delivered on the promise given by their earlier releases, unleashing on an unsuspecting audience a collection of epic, bleak, and stirring symphonies of doom.
As one might suspect from taking a glance at the album name and cover, Black One
isn't a very hopeful record. It knows exactly where it's going at gets there efficiently, but it's an unrelentingly gloomy record that pulls no punches. The lightest song here is the brief intro "Sin Nanna", in which instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi handles a flock of instruments, from buzzing guitars to pounding drums to sweeping atmospherics. By itself, the track is less than substantial, but it does an excellent job of setting the mood for the rest of the album. This is soon expanded on by second track "It Took the Night to Believe", which gives a fuller idea what the album is all about
: the song is frightening, introspective, and a little more than slightly insane (most of these can be attributed to the blood-curdling vocals provided by Wrest of Leviathan).
And, in that manner, the album doesn't let up. Its only mood is bleakness, and it explores all the corners of the mood, inspecting it through and through and letting the utter austerity of it shine through and control the direction of the music. Which could be a potential problem for listeners: sometimes the album seems to be going nowhere at all, simply degrading into a mess of noise and shrieks, in essence wallowing in its own misery. And I can't really blame them for thinking this either: Black One
is an incredibly tortured listen, piling on layer after layer of seemingly endless guitar feedback and anguished vocals, only to build to almost unbearably intense climaxes, as "Orthodox Caveman" and Immortal cover "Cursed Realms (Of the Winterdemons)" do. In the wrong state of mind, the album is a painfully monotonous listen that refuses to let up.
In the right state of mind, however, the album does just about everything right. Its walls of sound are a perfect union of all of the agonizing, tortured thoughts in the corners of one's head; the fears of the unknown, or the all-too-well known. So perhaps its fitting that, in recording the album, fears had to be overcome. Malefic of Xasthur provides vocals on epic closing track "Báthory Erzsébet", and the way he contributes them couldn't be more unique--or frightening. The band allegedly locked Malefic in a casket with microphones in it, forcing him to confront his claustrophobia, while also allowing him to produce absolutely spine-chilling vocals, giving the song its crucial element. Among ridiculous labels such as "casket electronics" and "glacial winds", the band's tag for Malefic's contribution ("calls from beyond the grave") surprisingly feels just right.
Obviously, neither Sunn O))) nor this release have mass appeal of any sort. Their releases are terrifyingly grim, and Black One
is no exception. The question of whether or not Sunn O))) are meant to be taken seriously is still potentially up in the air for those who are skeptical--and many will be. For those willing to embrace its dark powers with open arms, however, getting sucked in is inevitable.