SUNN vs PITCHFORK
Posted: Dec 14, 2005
People fixate, but there's more to Sunn 0))) than robes and the Earth and AMP-derived name. Not only does the band's dark, heavy, theatrically composed sixth album, Black One, transcend the duo's previous material, overall it's one of the strongest records of the past year: Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have unleashed a doom'n'gloom masterpiece.
Ultra cinematic and nearly matching Sunn 0)))'s live power, Black One's seven tracks will even please those who can't deal with uninterrupted drone. Getting assistance from key friends, including harsh noise icon John Wiese, the band overlaps smaller drone bits with the usual gargantuan exercises-- its staged like corpsepainted Noh drama. Opener "Sin Nanna"-- on which the wonderful Australian experimental guitarist and percussionist Oren Ambarchi handles all the instruments-- is the mood setter, and is named for a moon god who sported a lapis lazuli beard and rode a winged bull. It's followed by "It Took the Night to Believe" which transitions the listener into the longer works. The six-minute piece begins in media res, as if the recording tape hits a snag and snaps back into action. Power chords drop in quick succession over smoky bass drone; the brutal ghost cry comes courtesy of U.S.-based black metal favorite Leviathan, aka Wrest. In some regards it's Sunn 0)))'s most straightforward metal song to date, though its series of ebb/flows is anything but typical.
The bulk of the album-- each of the final five tracks are at least eight minutes long, with four of them moving past the 10:00 mark-- begins with an extended cover of Immortal's "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)". Here Xasthur aka Malefic is cast asunder, grumbling about ravens, cursed realms, and the central thesis that "the face of the earth/ Will be to know black silence." It's more than two times as long as the original and built largely around Malefic's sub-tonal scowls and bleeding feedback drone.
Then comes the more old-school Sunn 0)))- and Earth-sounding "Orthodox Caveman", 10 minutes of pure drone made flesh with Wiese's digital noise and Ambarchi on drums. "CandleGoat", which O'Malley says is "an evolution of an artwork collaboration with Savage Pencil," includes soft-lit ambiance at its intro courtesy of Wiese and features a gravel-voiced O'Malley on the mic.
Each piece is strong, but the album's highlight is its glacial, sprawling, anguished closer, "Báthory Erzébet". The track's a reference to Elizabeth Báthory, and likely also the Swedish black metal band her surname spawned. Báthory was an occult-friendly member of the Transylvanian royal family who is reputed to have killed hundreds of young girls. Some legends even claims she thought the lifeblood of virgins would keep her young, so she not only tortured and killed her victims but also bathed in or drank their blood. Báthory died in 1614 imprisoned in her own castle. Perhaps mirroring Báthory's lock-down, Sunn 0))) crammed Malefic in a casket (inside a Cadillac hearse) with only a microphone and his fear of small spaces. His resulting petrified, dry-bones performance and the claustrophobic recording technique should net a Grammy. Leading up to the star turn's a gentle hum throughout which Ambarchi weaves in a gong, bells, cymbal, and guitar. Then comes the teeming Anderson/O'Malley assault, announcing the most triumphant avant-rock moment in recent memory.
Okay, Anderson and O'Malley have long hair and they populate their ambient universes with some likeminded players (whether Julian Cope or Joe Preston), but there's no reason for their work to be ghettoized as some cartoonish Dungeons & Dragons dog-and-pony show. I've spoken at length to O'Malley and can say, without a doubt, that he's one of the most intelligent people I've encountered (from any walk of life) and that he and Anderson plan to continually refine and complicate both their sound and the theories they hold about musical composition. (The last person I encountered so knowledgeable and rigorous about his own work was Tony Conrad.)
With Black One, Sunn 0))) harnesses the sounds and moods of black metal, then expands its palette through meticulous experimentation and a commitment to the physicality of sound. The result is a beautiful, deep, passionate reflection of life's bleakest corners.
-Brandon Stosuy, December 14, 2005