Sunn O))) - Putting the art into experimental Metal

Mark Porter  STAFF WRITER
Posted 04.07.2019 09:03
Updated 04.07.2019 10:13

Sunn O)))

Stephen O’Malley (guitar, bass, piano, and synthesizer) and Greg Anderson (guitar and bass) have been mining and constantly refining their own particular brand of leftfield metal for over 20 years as the main musicians behind Sunn O))) (pronounced ‘Sun’). Now finally garnering wider attention for their efforts and thanks to some well-chosen collaborators along the way (Scott Walker et al), they are deservedly at the forefront of the US drone/black metal scene.

With two new albums out this year, the recently released ‘Life Metal’ and the forthcoming ‘Pyroclasts’ (due in October) they are continuing the prolific nature of their work and this, in turn, should solidify their growing reputation. Both albums were overseen by renowned recording engineer Steve Albini, who the band were very keen to collaborate with in order to try and capture the ferocity of their pummelling live sound in the studio.

To this end, Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio in Chicago, is an all-analog recording facility and the band recorded live to tape with very few overdubs in the process. The material had been prepared and was well rehearsed in advance and they spent only two weeks recording it last summer, a very short period in comparison with the lengthy sessions of previous albums.

‘Life Metal’ continues Sunn O)))’s predilection for long songs, containing four tracks that are all over the ten-minute mark. This is atmospheric music to truly get absorbed in, dominated by immense guitar drones, using excessive feedback and quantities of reverb. If that sounds a little heavy-going, there is a distinct lightness of touch here and expertise with the material that ultimately creates an uplifting listening experience.

The music draws you in and changes in small, but telling increments just when you think you have a handle on where it’s heading. Reviewing the album for Kerrang!, Nick Ruskell concluded, "In a weird way, Life Metal is also a superb demonstration of just how broad Sunn O)))’s palette actually is.

Where on albums like 2005’s Black One they examined the depths of the sonic abyss, Life Metal finds them full of life and energy. Gloriously triumphant, weirdly exhilarating and entirely engrossing, Sunn O))) have created something genuinely brilliant here."

This is a band refining their art to the nth degree, adding surprising touches along the way such as the unexpected vocals/cello of Iceland’s Hildur Guonadottir to the opening track, ‘Between Sleipnir’s Breaths’. This song also manages to incorporate a horse neighing at the beginning and at the end and is certainly one of the tracks of the year so far, an intoxicating, absorbing listen. Sunn O))), like all the best bands, operate completely in a world of their own making, adding detail and clever flourishes to each successive release, making the listener’s journey with the band a supremely fruitful one.

The remainder of ‘Life Metal’ is no less captivating and culminates with the closing track ‘Novae’, a twenty-five minute epic of sonic highs and lows, gorgeous ambient interludes and noisy crescendos. The cover too is absolutely divine, a painting by Samantha Keely Smith that manages to encapsulate the uniqueness of the sonic terrain explored. Like another benchmark of modern music, Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’, the album title and name of the band are nowhere to be found.

Sunn O))) here continue to demonstrate that they are masters of their (dark) art and ‘Pyroclasts’, an apparently more mellow affair, can’t come soon enough.

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