03 10 2009
#2326

SUNN O))) vs Philadelphia

Sunn O))) & Eagle Twin: Live at the Church, Philadelphia
By Sean Caldwell

I got to the venue early, maybe about 45 minutes before the doors were supposed to be opened, and took a seat on the steps of the First Unitarian Church. Sound check was pouring out into the streets, Sunn O))) and Eagle Twin basically offering a preview of what would be heard later, and inadvertently reminding me that I forgot to pick up ear plugs. This was going to hurt.

As rugged, pulsating low end and vocalist Attila Csihar’s devilish throat haunted 21st and Chestnut, casual passersby were stopping with uneasy curiosity and taking careful ganders at the set-up inside the church. One exceptionally suburban clad couple stopped and exchanged glances while Csihar was mid-grunt.

“It sounds like ‘The Exorcist,’” spoke the female counterpart before the both of them continued their leisurely stroll and left us early concertgoers to loiter in a haze of amplification.

As sun set, sound check continued. And, continued. And, continued.

More and more people arrived, an odd mix of traditional metalheads, long beards, black designer hoodies and characters pulled directly from any Daniel Clowes novel. An array of chemical influence was in effect, whether inhaled or imbibed. Everyone just played up their respective attempts at intimidation, smoking cigarettes and looking unapproachable. Kids are so cute.

In the meantime, I was admittedly growing impatient, overhearing bad conversations and the perpetual noise emanating from the Church.

It was almost 9PM by the time we were let in.

Before the show even started, the hall was hazy with smoke. After spending $5 on a silkscreened poster, I secured a spot at the end of a pew thinking I had a good vantage point. I was about two or three rows up from the back, but I could see the stage clear as day.

The altar was stacked tall with giant amps and gothic candelabras were attached to every other pew. It was obvious the ceremonial atmosphere automatically provided by any church was going to be played up for the festivities, the venue’s employees walking back and forth in monkish hoods, associating themselves with the headlining act.

Eagle Twin, a duo comprised of metal guitarist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith, burn with an energy that some full bands can’t muster. An aggressive sludge with slow moving calamitous clangor setting the pace, Eagle Twin played a nonstop block of music for 45 minutes, most of their audience happy to nod in place while a couple people did physically respond in thrash-worthy gesticulations.

Fifteen minutes elapsed between bands with some tuning required and push button confirmation that the smoke machine was operable. At this point I didn’t think the smoke would obscure THAT much of the show, but twenty minutes into Sunn O)))’s set, I realized that my seat sucked: I couldn’t see anything.

Initially, while watching the few shutterbugs at the show scampering around the foot of the altar for decent shots of the band, I’d felt that flash photography might rob the band of its mystique. But, the strobe effect the camera’s employed led to second-long visions of the band in their hoods, momentarily breaking them out from underneath the walls of smoke that had built up around them.

Disappointingly resigned to view nothing, I sort of sank into the reverberating maelstrom the band generated, as did everyone else around me.

After the venue’s gimmicky monks lit each candle in succession, there was a steady hum from the amplifiers before organ music began to sound, building up drama until flawlessly transitioning into roaring movements of guitar. “Cacophony” is an understatement, as is “technical proficiency.” I can think of no band so amazingly talented at producing this level of noise in such an artistic and composed manner. I dub thee, Decibel Metal.

That being said, it wasn’t the easiest show to sit through. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s signature metallic crescendos are unmet by anything rhythmic for extended periods of time, blistering shrieks of high-amp’d guitar and bass living to drone, Csihar’s chilling and intense delivery… I think I heard four songs in almost two hours, and there was nothing you could move to. All you could do was drown in it, like Gregorian chant set to a thunderstorm.

But, as an experience, Sunn O))) is something to behold. When the candles had been extinguished and the lights had come on, the one word universally spoken around me was “intense.” I picked up a t-shirt and headed to my car.

As jazz musician Cecil Taylor once famously stated that his preparation for a concert should be met with the same efforts from his audience, it’s obvious that Sunn O))) live by a similar mantra. Well, that and “Maximum volume yields maximum results.”
24 September, 2009 - 18:50 — Sean Caldwell

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