9 of 9 thought this review was well written
Sunn 0))) are:
Greg Anderson : Guitars, bass
Stephen O’Malley: Guitars, bass
Oren Ambarchi: Guitars, vocals, percussion
John Wiese: Electronics
(It is possible that others were involved in the creation of this album, but it is difficult to tell as the musicians listed on the back are often given nicknames, and it is usually not explicitly stated what each musician plays: ex. MK Ultra Blizzard: Grail, eclipse, lead guitar. Consequently, I have chosen to ignore them completely.)
First off, this album was exceptionally difficult to get into. I am usually open minded as far as my musical tastes are concerned, yet this album confused me when I first listened. The music simply did not draw me in. Subsequent spins offered up a little more each time, but after listening to Black One several times I found it to be only average at best. The only song that held any initial appeal for me was “It Took the Night to Believe." At 5:56, this song is the second shortest track on the album, and therein lay its appeal. The riffs do not have time to become dull and repetitive, even considering that there are only two guitar parts in the entire song. The first, a lower, droning riff, slowly rises and falls. It conjures images of slowly rolling waves on a lifeless, black sea. The second, a higher tremolo picked part, is woven over the top of the first. Towards the end of the song, the lower part degenerates into a myriad of feedback, while the tremolo picked part continues on, increasing slightly in volume. The vocals on this song, provided by Wrest of Leviathan, come in two flavors: a lower, demonic growl, and a higher pitched, anguished scream. Both are all but unintelligible. The two vocal styles are layered over the top of one another, lending the track a unique feel. This track provided the base upon which my enjoyment of the album would eventually grow. It kept me from dismissing the entire album as dull and repetitive, and for that I am grateful.
A week ago, I decided to give the album another chance. I enjoy, among other things, long distance running, and so, as I braced myself against the darkness and the cold outside, I selected this album to listen to during my run. As the winter darkness around me grew steadily and inexorably deeper, I was transfixed by the sound waves emanating through my headphones. They were both utterly terrifying and hypnotizing at the same time. The music seemed to parallel the blackness of the night around me, intensifying it to an almost unbearable level. Every step I took felt as though I was moving towards an inescapable doom. An emotion that an album rarely awakens within me arose; fear, primal and irrational, began to grow. My mind conjured images of evil shapes lurking in shadows at the edges of my peripheral vision. This is truly what Black One is about. As the album progresses, its dark, droning riffs and tortured vocals wrap themselves around you, consuming you.
The album can be listened to as individual songs, but it is much more effective when taken as a whole. Despite this, I will now attempt to capture the essence of one or two highlights. This first is, appropriately, the first track. “Sin Nanna" serves to set the mood for the album. The listener is greeted initially by a low, guitar generated drone, which sonically resembles a horn of some kind. The buzzing of flies conjures images of rotting corpses. At irregular intervals, the sound of drums clattering in the background is heard, sounding like the rattling of chains or the creaking of floorboards as something approaches. An ambient buzz slowly builds, accompanied by a howling, electronic noise, which sounds like the voiceless screams of circling, disembodied souls. Although this track has no vocals, there are lyrics, “Debasement of eternal torment, dark is the light. Dark is the light. And everything is black." The music, coupled with the lyrics, appropriately sets the mood for the album, and I truly enjoy the ambiance created by this track.
Another highlight is “Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)." An Immortal cover, this song has been rendered completely unrecognizable by Sunn 0))) and company. The initial sounds are of howling winds. The winds are soon joined by the tortured and hateful vocals of Malefic. The song carries a feeling of drowning, as bubbling feedback threatens to overwhelm Malefic’s voice. The sheer variety of feedback generated in the song is surely the result of hours of experimentation, as sound waves howl, drone, and everything in between. By the end, even Malefic’s vocals seem watery, as if he has finally been pulled beneath the surface of a storm tossed sea. With 1:28 seconds remaining, the only portion of the song remotely resembling a riff is heard, and is truly a relief, as it provides a modicum of structure and familiarity. Yet this is soon obliterated by a crushing burst of feedback, ending the song.
The mournful tolling of bells opens the final track, “Bathory Erzebet." The bells are calm, almost soothing, except that they conjure unsettling images of a funeral march. After seven minutes, the guitars enter, generating Sunn 0))) trademark feedback. The guitars are accompanied by the labored breathing of Malefic. His vocals, in contrast to those in “Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)," are hoarse and weak, sounding as though he has been interred within the cold earth. As an aside, Malefic’s vocals for this song were recorded from inside a hearse. To me, this seemed to cross the line into the absurd and gimmicky, but the vocal performance on “Bathory Erzebet" is far from absurd. The song is as haunting and dark as anything I have ever heard. The lyrics are equally dark, paralleling the feeling of being buried, fully awake and aware, to face eternal torment alongside Countess Bathory, “Here. Decompose forever, aware and unholy, encased in marble and honey from the swarm." I especially enjoyed the guitars in this song, they sounded at times like the feedback generated in the intro to Slayer’s “Raining Blood." As the song comes to a close, I cannot help but feel a sense of relief.
In my estimation, Black One is an outstanding album. It conjures emotions of fear and despair in a way that many albums cannot. Yet it is not for everyone. The repetitive nature of the material, coupled with the harshness of the vocal performances, will instantly turn off anyone not willing to look beyond the confines of mainstream music. Even some more open minded listeners may be turned off. As an example, I was listening to this one day when my brother entered my room. He informed me that he thought he was hearing a lawn mower drowning on outside. Infuriatingly, even I must admit that the resemblance is there. However, I feel that anyone who devotes the time to this album will be drawn in. In order to truly appreciate this album, you must be in the correct mindset. Listen to it in the dark, alone, and you too will be drawn into its black embrace.