Stephen O’Malley

Sunn review in WIRE by SAVX

Posted: Jun 8, 2009

Sunn O))) Monoliths & Dimensions Southern Lord CD/2xLP

Monoliths & Dimensions is the seventh Sunn O))) album, and their greatest achievement to date. True to previous form, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have gathered around them a cast of players whose work they hold in high regard – previous collaborators like vocalist Attila Csihar, Australian guitarist/electronics player Oren Ambarchi and Earth guitarist Dylan Carlson, as well as composer/arranger Eyvind Kang and trombonist Julian Priester, whose playing appears on records by Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. Their inclusion adds an extra pulsating membrane to the Sunn O))) sound, one that allows the group to usher in elements of modern composition and jazz without either being immediately apparent during the record’s four movements.
Monoliths & Dimensions opens with “Agahartha” where the duo’s now familiar layering of down-tuned guitar chords works as a cleansing ceremony before the real action commences. Suddenly Csihar’s guttural growl appears, a huge swell of smouldering energy pushed to the foreground of the mix, each tongue-curled utterance carefully considered before being released like a dying breath. Behind him buzzes an 11-piece ensemble, their various instruments, including conch shells and a hydrophone, blurring together like a gigantic swarm of flies. This is followed by “Big Church”, a hymn of deconsecration with a spectral arrangement by Kang, where a six-piece choir dovetails with Anderson, O’Malley, Carlson and Ambarchi’s guitars. “Hunters & Gatherers (Cydonia)” is a continuation, only with a male choir backing Csihar’s recitation. Embellished with horns, bombarded with guitars and transcendentally tweaked, it’s the one track that risks falling into over-egged self-parody.
“Alice”, however, is the album’s masterpiece, a slowly descending instrumental where the guitar chimes gradually break down and succumb to a delicate wash of strings, harp, brass and woodwinds, Priester’s exquisite trombone solo being the perfect conclusion to what is almost a perfect album. For those still suspicious of the group’s cowled performances and allegiance to Black Metal, Monoliths & Dimensions shows that great art knows no boundaries.

Edwin Pouncey