June 2, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part II - ØØ Void

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band have explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

Sunn O)))'s 2000 release, ØØ Void, set the band's roots firmly in the fertile soil they would subsequently till. It represents a significant artistic step for Sunn O))), seeing them adding more ritualized darkness to the substrata of doom found on The Grimmrobe Demos, and continuing their explorations into the physical properties of dark meditation. It's all a downtempo dive into sonic purgation and punishment, the mix of the two granting the choice of transcending or cowering.

When ØØ Void was re-released by Southern Lord in 2012--and I reviewed it elsewhere--I mentioned I was reading H.P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror, and that the story captured ØØ Void's menace perfectly. Lovecraft's words, "black gulfs of essence and entity that stretch like titan phantasms beyond all spheres of force and matter, space and time," essentially summed up ØØ Void, or at least offered a chilling glimpse into its nucleus.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

Bassist G. Stuart Dahlquist, violinist Petra Haden and vocalist Pete Stahl were all brought on board for the album, which was produced by former Kyuss bassist, Scott Reeder. "Richard", "NN O)))", "Rabbits Revenge" and "Ra at Dusk" were all triturating tunes with subterranean, bowel-boiling tones that ignored any rhythm in favor of repetitious, meditative effect. Sunn O))) combined a brutal metal viewpoint (geologically shattering tones, eerie themes) with an experimental perspective (using the physical properties of sound to induce trances, terrors and ecstasies), and that amalgamation of the abstract and practical set them on the path to finding fans from the world of metal and the avant-garde.

These days, Sunn O)))'s position at the nexus where metal and experimental music meet is well established. However, ØØ Void built a bridgehead where two schools of thought could meet--schools that shared certain methodologies on occasion, but were still cautious of each other. The ramifications have been enormously productive in creative terms, with ØØ Void's influence seeing artists from metal and avant-garde circles constructing edifices of sound that openly pillage and amalgamate elements from each other’s genres.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

In that sense, ØØ Void is the perfect doorway into Sunn O)))'s world. Open it up, and you'll find dirges, dissonance, and mesmerizing riffing, all building and building, and layering and layering, till catharsis (ie, points to gasp a breath) are exposed. But that's not all you'll find. You'll also see the first evidence of Sunn O))) breaking down a barrier between unconventional art and metal, where metal was finally able to gain a firmer foothold in a realm so often disposed to misjudging the genre. In other words, ØØ Void is essentially a gigantic ‘fuck you’ to those who've dismissed metal's artistic value, or its intelligence.

ØØ Void is, undeniably, a challenging experience for those unexposed to glacial-paced songs as downtuned and disharmonic, but riding the waves of riffing therein is pure bliss. Admittedly, there's probably something a little masochistic in that, but then, every work of Sunn O)))'s contains a nod to the disreputable power of filthy rock 'n' roll--even if it happens to move at a continent-shifting pace.

Lovecraft said it best: "wild orgiastic prayers … answered by loud cracklings and rumblings…" That's ØØ Void, and that's Sunn O))) as a whole.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

  1. This is shaping up to be a truly epic series of posts. I hope you can finish it before going insane.

  2. Justin, thanks a bunch man. I'll do my best to maintain some level of sanity to get through it all!