Review Summary: "So, what does this band Sunn O))) sound like?"
Drone isn’t catchy, drone catches you. With Sunn O))), the garb, the physical impact their volume has on a live audience, the mystical stage setting and the utterly impenetrable sound that they conjure is all pushed to such an elevated level exaggeration that words often fail to describe their take on drone. Correspondingly, the majority of critics desperately seeks overly-specific wording in an attempt to categorise this band’s otherworldly aesthetic. Cimmerian, tenebrous, atramentous, nonporous- all these elaborate terms are perfectly applicable to Sunn O))), however, they are so precise that they ultimately demean the article that these words attempt to describe.
For obvious reasons, drone music does not appeal to everyone. It demands a certain level of respect and a high degree of patience from an audience, hence why the genre is so challenging or even impossible to jump in to. Its immersive atmosphere, immovable song structures and dense reverberation disarms your consciousness and drags your limp body into an inescapable pit. Drone isn’t catchy, drone catches you. When a sound reaches a certain depth, we no longer hear each note, we feel them. Therefore, the root of what is so appealing about drone is tangibility.
, the 8th offering from Sunn O))), is the first release of two albums planned for this year and reveals a different shade of the band’s bleak sound. Relying on an analogous method of recording, the album sounds naturalistic and primal in character. Each chord strike sounds invasive and hostile, heightened by the fact that each note lasts a substantial amount of time. Subsequently, the delay and reverb that trails after each note emboldens the tone of the album and gives the overwhelming guitars a gargantuan presence. Luckily, this invasive presence successfully demonstrates how drone’s sound manifests into a feeling. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s riffing shake your eardrums, the length of the songs is strenuous, such a simplistic and vast soundscape is chilling to behold. Drone isn’t catchy, drone catches you.
Compared to Sunn O)))’s previous output, “Kannon”
- which oversaw them tentatively try to play minutely faster- “Life Metal”
sinks back to the band’s comfortably lethargic tempo only they have learned that a slight decoration from the norm goes a long way. “Troubled Air” most obviously illustrates these subtle deviations where a smattering of charming chimes and Anthony Pateras’s inclusion on pipe organ makes the abysmal atmosphere feel like Sunn O)))’s victim is struggling to rise under the burdensome guitars rather than stoop beneath them. These inclusions take on a more light-hearted, even positive tone as opposed to the drab and opaque soundscape this band ordinarily casts. Similarly, the addition of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s vocals during "Between Sleipnir's Breath" is a welcome surprise as they take on a higher pitch compared to Atilla Csihar, who is absent from this record. Intimately uttered and mixed atop the blanket of reverb, her vocals float above the sea of silt that Sunn O))) are submerged in in grand fashion.
Compared to the album’s predecessors, there is little difference in appearance and sound, however, “Life Metal”
, is not the same, no matter how similar it seems. Strokes of grace and elegance have finally managed to delicately permeate the grim oceanic distortion that takes precedence across every Sunn O))) record and as a result, the band has literally given life to their music. You don’t need to run to a thesaurus to categorise Sunn O))); they are simple to describe. They are heavy; ostentatiously heavy, even. If you can’t respect that, then those who reduce Sunn O))) to monotonous chords played by people hiding behind cowls and dry ice are missing the point.