Review Summary: Mood music for specific occasions.
What’s It All About?
There are quite a few genres and sub-genres of music that are ‘love it or hate it.’ Genres that involve music which goes out of its way to create distinguished alternative atmospheres, moods, emotions, which will either be accepted and appreciated by audiences or dismissed entirely. In this instance, Sunn O))) (simply pronounced ‘Sun’) can be filed under the ‘love it or hate it’ metal sub-genre ‘drone doom.’ Drone doom is identifiable by its long, generally unchanged sounds of drone, accompanied by the heavy, slow tempos of doom metal. Sunn O))) is no doubt one of the most pronounced examples of contemporary drone doom music. Lead by former Burning Witch and Khanate band member, Stephen O’Malley, (who chose the name ‘Sunn O)))’ as both a tribute to the amplifier brand, and to drone pioneers, Earth) Sunn O)))’s brand of epic soundscapes have attracted quite a cult following.
A Closer Look At The Album:
White 1 consists of only three tracks:
1. My Wall (25:16)
2. The Gates of Ballard (15:32)
3. A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You (17:52)
Despite having only three tracks, the album’s running time exceeds 58 minutes. At first glance is it safe to say this album lacks variety. Normally to say an album lacks variety is something negative, yet it is this lack of variety that makes drone doom what it is. However, at a closer look, and considering the genre of music, each track is unique in its own way.
The opener, and standout track, “My Wall” consists of discomfortingly slow, distorted, yet incredibly heavy electric guitar which lasts every second of the 25:17 running time. This is a kind of doom explosion that is better descried as avant-garde art than music. More notable about this track is that it has lyrics for half of the song. Julian Cope is the special guest who chants bizarre druidist poetry that sounds like it was written while the band was possessed. The lyrics can be interpreted however one would like them to be. I find the most interesting lyrics to be some of the final ones, “don’t blame the messenger of doom.” To me this their way of saying that doom is very real, and it exists all around us. Haters should not blame Sunn O))) for they are merely messengers who reflect the doom of the real world and transform it into sound. In the end no one is forcing you to experience this doom, but Sunn O))) makes this doom an option for whoever is intrigued by it.
“The Gates of Ballard” features percussion, which is quite rare for Sunn O))). Although it is probably the most normal-sounding of the three tracks, no doubt the repetitiveness will get to most listeners, though again, it is the repetitiveness that makes this drone music. The final track, “A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You” is incredibly atmospheric. It is a head trip of off-beat sounds and discomforting static. It is the most experimental track and an interesting way to end the album to say the least.
How Can This Album Be Fully Appreciated?
Consider for a moment the spaces and environments where people would listen to albums: while driving in the car, on an iPod while travelling on public transport, at social events, in the background while you study or work on the computer, to accompany a meal, and so on. To get the full experience of White 1, none of these situations are ideal. White 1 is specifically mood music. Since this music is so evil sounding, one absolutely must be in the right state of mind to thoroughly experience it. Seriously. This music comes straight from the fires of hell. It is far from easy listening. It has to be among the heaviest and most morbid albums around which is why a specifically messed up mindset is the way to realise the magic of the album. “But what is this mood you keep going on about?” you ask. Well, on a personal note, I have only listened to this album a handful of times. Once was after I received lower exam results than I was expecting. Another time was after a serious fight with a close relative. And another was when my work told me they had to cut my hours. Sensing a theme here? Listening to White 1 while in a negative state of mind allows you to lose yourself in something much darker than what you feel. If one has experienced an awful day to the point of being life changing, a way to blow off steam that doesn’t involve ending up in jail is to turn off the lights, close your eyes, separate yourself from the world and listen to White 1. Let your thoughts drain and let the music take over.
It is very important to note that ‘classic’ albums do NOT have to be listened to every day for them to remain classics. Think of it more like a long-distance relationship: you might not see each other constantly, but that doesn’t mean the love is lost. It only makes it that much more special when you do get to see each other. Obviously this is not the one and only way to listen to this album, but it is the way to experience it to its fullest.
Why Would This Album Be Disliked?
From a totally objective point of view, I can understand why people would downright hate this album. White 1 is most definitely not for everyone. Many simply would not understand what the album is trying to achieve, and try to make sense of it by comparing it to other metal. The album, in a way, needs to be appreciated under certain circumstances, and if those are not met then the experience will fail. Generally many people are quick to judge what is different and unique. There are many people that would take one sniff at what this album is about and immediately hate it. That’s fine, you don’t have to like it, but it wouldn’t hurt to understand what it’s doing. In fact, it is thanks to the haters that the lovers love it so much. There is definitely a feeling of achievement at reaching the end of this album. There is a bit of an elitist aspect involved knowing that you could sit through something that, given the choice, most people would rather peel their own faces off.
A mistake people make is “trying” to get into this album. Try all you want, but if you are not in the mood to listen to this album the chances of you liking it are minuscule. This album, or any drone doom for that matter, will never reach mainstream popularity because it is too different. The droning sounds are generally unappealing to most people, which is why it is totally understandable that listeners will disapprove of it. Though in saying this, despite the people repelled but Sunn O))), their unique sounds assures a cult following.
White 1 is an out-of-this-world experience that can be commended for being unique and different. Enjoying it may make you question your sanity, but coming across this album in the right place at the right time is well worth it, despite the criticism you may receive from people for not automatically hating it. Some people tend to get ‘quality’ and ‘uniqueness’ confused. A lot of the time people are scared of what is different. At a glance, this album is boring, unimaginative, and a waste of time. But given the right circumstances this album is beyond belief; a therapeutic release to escape the horrors of the real world, whatever they may be.
Standout Track: “My Wall”