Stephen O’Malley

SUNN O))) 101 (translated form the Italian tongue)

Posted: Dec 12, 2008

Translations provided courtesy of Michele Giorgi

SUNN O))) "00Void" 2000

In the beginning it was the drone… and Sunn O))) that understood its enourmous potentiality like it was a matter to mould, to dismember and to re-assemble, to create new worlds and new limits to exceed. With 00Void we are, no doubts about it, in front of the first act of this new genesis: a genesis doomed to change the course off extreme music and the very concept of sound manipulation. 00Void it's a monolithic album where four long lasting suites raise the cult of god-drone to the level of a real syntax, lexicon of which it's on the same time grammar and dictionary. Obviously, we are still far from the refinement we will find in future releases, like the unreachable White 1, as on this album every attention is completely captured by the aim to create the new language. The sound is the only protagonist as there is no space space for any rhytm or melodic accent, the really important thing is the longlasting and solitary embrace of the sound itself, self-mutilated and selself-proclaimed divinity, sole actor of this new life form. The Sunn O))) insane universe is hard to explain to those that hadn't tasted it yet, it's impossible to convert people unable to understand its lost fascination. Something certain it's that this band is for the present period what pioneers of prog represented back in time, real alchemists doomed to open new ways and to enter legend. We already know that many imitators will follow and that one day the drone scene will implode into itself, repeating the fate of every sound able to open new tracks. Mayne one day this sound will be the standard and that the desire to risk will turn into loyalty to its own models. But we always should remember those who were the demiurges and the time when the creation began… al the other will play to run after them…

SUNN O))) "Flight Of the Behemoth" 2002

If with 00Void Sunn O))) had changed and regenerated the use of drone, with Flight Of The Behemoth they decide to strike further by joining forces with the genius of Japanese noise Masami Akita, a fellow who got no rivals in the field of sounds manipulation. The album opens with two pieces by Sunn O)) in line with the precedent release, bringing the process to a conclusion and developing its destabilizing strength. The sound appears completely subdued to musicians will and the compositions reach that deep impact previously curbed by the early creative urgency. It's with the third track that Merzbow enter the scene and the doors of madness are opened. The gathering between drone's masters and Japanese handler produces a devastating effect. Drone-doom and prog-noise match as to give birth to a new entity, a melting pot of extreme noise and apocalyptic despair. If Sunn O))) sound exasperates the monolithic time expansion, with Merzbow contribution turns into a magma, every edge vanishes and everything appears as "in fieri", oppressing listeners nervous system. The final result deserve a standard ovation and unites two apparent opposite souls: Sunn O))) 70s valve-driven approach and the Japanese cold and over-distorted noise landscape. If we could see in 00Void an extreme development for Sunn O))) sound, with Flight Of The Behemoth the landscape go far beyond all that could have been foreseen and fullfill the erotic dreams of extreme music lovers. To end this riot in sound, we find a piece with a title deserving a Pulitzer prize and as binding as a declaration of faith: it could be only Cliff Burton the Sunn O))) godfather.

SUNN O))) "White 1" 2003

This time, Sunn O))) have done everything in grand style and after Mr. Merzbow art, at present they have even Julian Cope's voice to join their sound, perfect backing for their cryptic drones, so deviated and deviating. Born from the infernal pair Anderson and O'Malley, the album as usual is composed by a limited number of tracks, exactly three for a total running time of almost 60 minutes. This appears to be one of the main characters of the project: to expand the compositions within the bounds of tolerance in order to force the space/time sense in listeners, as in a cathartic ritual of sensorial stimulation. Not by chance, the inner notes of the album suggest to listen at full volume to reach the highest result. For sure it is not an easy listening album nor an academic or didactic form of doom. On the contrary it goes far beyond, blending Sabbath riffing (raped on the great "The Gates Of Ballard") with the drone approach of purest industrial noise, as to create the missing link or the sound able to open new horizons without definitely burning bridges with the original 70s attitude (somehow, it reminds me also of Hawkwind space-rock approach). In short, listeners who likes to taste a real sperimental attitude, also smelling dissolution, will be flung into a world from which it will be very difficult to come out. It's impossible to establish whether this will be the future, but we are surely going in to the right direction.

SUNN O))) "White 2" 2004

With White 1 the Sunn O)) reached untouchable expressive levels, evolved further their trademark and brought their sound to a head and with White 2 they widen their horizons and reach the absolute apex of their career in the final track "Deacy 2" as they promised with the gigantic "Deacy 1" (present as a bonus track in the best of Attila Csihar). White 2 consists of three long suites summing up the various aspects of Sunn O))) thought, from the drone-doom of "hell-O)))-ween" (lined up with the claustrophobic sound of 00Void and Flight Of The Behemoth, of which it was an evolution and natural result), to the insane experimentalism of "Bassaliens", real training room for unexpected sound manipulations. It's "Bassaliens" that fully shows the versatility of this band outlining the ability in forcing every limit and preconceived idea, with minimal sounds proceeding sinuously and furtively. The suite continuously change by making use of pure distorted sounds and cruel feedbacks to demolish every left over resistence. From a quiet beginning we are pushed into a new mixture of dilated sounds and mere noise to reach a final effect that fascinates and captures at one hand, destabilizes and rapes the listener on the other. No doubt it is one of the most claustrophobic experimental pieces ever conceived by the absolute masters of drone. But is with the last track "Decay 2" that the album can be called a masterpiece: we are taken into a parallel universe of changing sounds and anxious atmospheres. The track opens with the most infernal suite the band ever created, by offering us a chorus of souls condemned to dance by ghostly sounds and ominous moans. To top it all we find Attila's voice, perfect Caronte in this Hades created by Sunn O))), an Attila at his greatest ease as director of the apocalypse and in perfect community with his friends of rite. With Deacy 2 the band is entitled to enter the Olympus, it offers a so real sonic nightmare as to leave a strange sensation of anxiety even in the most used listener. An album leaving us terrified.

SUNN O))) "The Libations Of Samhain" 2003

A children chorus opens the space/time door form which feedbacks and drone, white noise and dissected notes peep out. This is the opening of a sole, long lasting, musical outline (the other one is an interview) that composes this live album recorded in London with the aid of Attila Csihar on vocals, a real liturgy for lost souls. Those who are on terms of familiarity with the proposal by Anderson, O'Malley and co., know well how the concept and shape of a song have weak and dilated edges in Sunn O))) music, so it would not have made any sense to expext a pure performance of already released tracks: as a matter of fact it is a real experiment of creation, where each instrument interacts with the others to give birth, little by little, to a beating entity heading on sound. The instruments themselves are real lab machinery to bring sounds to new mutation stages, through the use of "errors" and "malfunctions" to reach a unique suite looking like a ritual and a catharsis. Everything tastes like an initiation ceremony, door to a new world, triumphal arch of the new sound creation. All this explains the choice of a limited edition of only 500 copies to be bought online of newborn Bastet, child of Arthur Magazine. A brave choice in accordance with the nature of this album made with the most scrupulous accuracy also under the graphic aspect, smartly wrapped in a thin cardboard enriched with the artwork by Savage Pen. Something different from the usual, but on the same time a fascinating one and a further proof of Sunn O))) visionary genius.

SUNN O))) "Black One" 2005

Talking about Black One as the most obscure work ever released by Sunn O))) could scare more than a listener, as Anderson/O'Malley previous releases are not exactly joyful and happy ones. Nevertheless from the first notes this album continues what begun along the final track of White 2, when singer Attila Csihar joined the band. Also in Black One, Sunn O))) avail themselves with the contribution of external musicians such as Oren Ambarchi, Wrest (Leviathan, Lurker Of Chalice, Twilight), Malefic (Xasthur, Twilight), John Weise (Bastard Noise). The final result attests the indisputable value of a band able to set to music the most mysterious fears and our most unconscious phobias thanks to the expansion and the manipulation of sounds and human voice. To confirm the obscure nature of this album it is the version signed Sunn O))) of "Cursed Realms (Of The Winterdemons)" by Immortal, here deprived of every humanity and made pure evocation for unredeemed souls, a pure anthem to damnation. But it's the whole album to fade the most experimental Sunn O))) soul into the background, to devote the efforts towards manipulating listeners sensations and to inspire an atmosphere of anxiety and wickedness, also not changing the inner nature of Sunn O))) code. In short, Black One offers us the picture of a band able to master their own expressive means and endowed with a fitting, never excessive, song writing. It would be quite unfair to doubt of the real importance of an entity like Sunn O))).

SUNN O))) & BORIS "Altar" 2006

Altar gets over the concept of split album or of an extemporary cooperation, as it aims to represent anew entity capable to go far over the mere sum of the parts involved. Sunn O))) and Boris look for an expressive form that considers as a starting point the personalities of the involved single entities, carries their potentialities further and debates their guide-lines. To make all this clearer we find some famous guests, to enrich and to distinguish the trajectories of the project. Thus we can listen to Jesse Sykes, Kim Thayil, Joe Preston, the whole Earth and other musicians to make this album a real sound factory or better a laboratory where to play with sound as matter. Therefore it follows that the risk of putting too many irons in the fire and confusing the listener was a real possibility, nevertheless the presence of such strong personalities like Sunn O))) and Boris as conductors can hold the ship's course, so the multiform tracks nature can always find a guiding principle to tie and coordinate it. Song writing is dilated, goes along centrifugal trajectories and in the end inevitably yeld to the centripetal force that puts together again the single elements, thus infusing into the listeners the impression of being present at a rite with its rigorous beat and religious mood. Shouldn't we risk of undervalue the commitment and seriousness of purposes, we could define Altar a thematic park for experimental sounds lovers of Southern Lord school.

SUNN O))) "Dømkirke" 2008

Whoever got the opportunity to attend a Sunn O))) live set knows well how their shows are quite unique under -at least- two point of views. First, because of the huge creative tension, enriched by different guests joyining the core-band on stage, second, because of the high ritual mood surrounding the event, as it was a sort of religious meeting, so far from usual rock parties. Obviously this last effect is amplified according to the mind set of the audience and the place/context of the performance: you can easily imagine the impact of a Sunn O))) live set inside the Bergen cathedral, built in 1150 and place of a high cultural, historical and religious value. To the domkirke and to its strong symbolic recallings is devoted the first of the tracks captured live in 2007, during the Borealis festival, stuck in the tradition of Gregorian chants and enriched by the cathedral ancient organ played by Steve Moore (Earth, Ascend). To complete the line up with Anderson and O'Malley you can find Attila Csihar, a long time partner of the Sunn O))), and Lasse Marhaug, well known artist of the Norwegian scene for his numerous projects (from noise to jazz) and owner of Pica Disk. Marhaug's presence and his progressive penetration inside the creative process as well as his interaction with Attila's ritual vocals contribute to make of Domkirke a sound forge of unusual expressive strength, or better to say one of the most shining and charming events in the whole Sunn O))) discography. With "Cymatics" Sunn O))) reach the apex of their expressive landscape and can be described as almost perfect, so demonstrating out of doubts how they are far from ending their artistic growth or their creative impulse. On the contrary, today Sunn O))) appear in a top condition, perfect in their role of ideal interface between deadly darkness and creative passion, restaurators of ancient rites and overthrowers of dogmas. The interaction between musicians longing to force their limits and the influence wielded by environment represents the climax of an album standing as an unaivodable moment in the experimental and extreme music history. To confirm the special value of the event there is also the decision to release the album only on vinyl, wrapped in a heavy gatefold packaging decorated with an impressive artwork by Tania Stene (who already did the artworks for many important names of the Norwegian black metal scene like Burzum, Ulver and Darkthrone) and great pics of the night. A note of colour in the literal sense of the term: the European version is printed in marbled blue vinyl and is limited to a thousand copies.