Stephen O’Malley


Posted: Dec 21, 2005


Rock Review | Sunn0)))
Measuring Sound and Time on a Geological Scale

Published: December 20, 2005

Imagine, for a moment, how an insect might perceive human music. Measured against its shorter lifespan, the time taken for a human-scale melody could seem hugely prolonged. Measured against the tiny sensors it uses to hear, the wavelengths could seem deep, gargantuan, body-shaking. A human listener could experience the same sensations hearing Sunn0))) when it performed at Northsix on Sunday night.

Few saw them, although the club was packed. The stage was swathed in fog from two smoke machines, and when the musicians' silhouettes began to emerge, the machines hissed into action again. Spotlights turned the fog white or blood red.

The music was loud, droning, utterly unadorned and its motion slower than glacial: tectonic. There were no drums. One note - an immense, distorted, tone from electric guitar or bass - would arrive and linger, exuding overtones and subsonics at frequencies that vibrated specific body parts, particularly in the chest and groin. Eventually the note would move up or down to another sustained note, and then another, and another. It would have been a melody, or a riff, had it been occurring on some other timeframe.

Some notes would pulsate as they were sustained; others would inexorably thicken with consonances or dissonances, as if freezing a metal band's momentary burst of distortion for painstaking contemplation. Gradually, the music's underpinnings emerged: three notes, rising and falling, tolling and pausing and tolling again. At times, the piece sped up to something like a dirge, with death-metal growls - saying "yonder," or "wonder," or perhaps "Rhonda" - joining in, before slowing down again and finding new, more bristling drones. It was not music as a structure or story or beat, but music as a molten, pitiless, looming presence.

This was the ambient form of what has been named doom metal. One member of Sunn0))), Greg Anderson, owns and operates Southern Lord Records, a label that also releases another of Mr. Anderson's bands, Goatsnake, along with Deathspell Omega, Frost, Pentagram and Church of Misery. The latest Sunn0))) album, "Black One," has track titles like "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" and "Bathory Erzsebet." But Sunn0))) is far removed from most of its metal compatriots. It's in its own realm: abstract, desolate and utterly compelling.

from NYT website:

photo: Daniel Barry for The New York Times.

Playing misty: The band Sunn0))) kept themselves all but invisible at Northsix in Williamsburg on Sunday