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.
Play your gloom axe Stephen O'MalleyObviously there's a multitude of reasons why an album sits on your list of favorites, but one of the prime reasons is likely to be because it’s how you first encountered a band. 2003's White1 was where I first stumbled across Sunn O))), or, more to the point, it was where I first heard the album's opening track, "My Wall", which features Julian Cope's madcap poetry (see above). I was sold on Sunn O))) from that moment on.
Sub bass clinging to the sides of the valley
Sub bass ringing in each last ditch and combe
Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom.
― Julian Cope + Sunn O))): "My Wall"
White1 continues the sub-sonic explorations of previous album Flight of the Behemoth, but where that album brought the droning noise courtesy of collaborator Merzbow, White1's collaborations bring the droning mysticism. Along with the aforementioned 20 minutes of druidic lyricism of "My Wall", White1 also features "The Gates of Ballard", which contains Norwegian folk poem "Håvard Hedde", recited in Norwegian over a distorted stoner rock bass riff by Runhild Gammelsæter--O'Malley and Anderson's compatriot from Thorr's Hammer .
"A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You" follows an even more skewed trail, with abstract flickers of electro-acoustics and sonorous breaths rising from, and falling into, a chilling ambient void to construct a deeply buried nightmare set to haunt in the wee small hours. "CUTWOODeD" also features on the Bandcamp version of White1, seeing Sunn O))) collaborating with Ulver--a match made in ambient heaven (or hell). Accordingly, "CUTWOODeD" is a steep plummet into atmospheric doom, with the menace therein coming not from any prominent riffing but from foreboding electronics riding atop some tail-end feedback, with a fantastic and fantastical vintage sci-fi/horror vibe cradling all.
White1 is as ruminative and doom-laden as any Sunn O))) release, but simultaneously, it's a huge departure from what came before. Sunn O))), of course, always provide unconventional routes into darkness, and White1 is an idiosyncratic and gloomy commentary on a range of topics outside the norm, thanks to contributions from Ulver, Gammelsæter and Cope. White1 barely stalks the borders of its more metallic predecessors, but while the mammoth rumbling riffs are scarce--and thick atmospheres and the blanketing of textures are the key means of purveying the mood--what White1 lacks in brute, upfront force is more than made up for by providing four distinctly different and compelling tracks.
Sunn O)))'s sinister feedback is evident on White1, but it’s the band’s least sludgy, and least overtly crushing album. The band’s decision to experiment with a more multifaceted sound (de-tuning, muted aggression, distorted acoustics etc) means that White1 is less of an immense wall of sound. However, like all Sunn O)))'s work, if taken in large doses, emotional injury is guaranteed.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]
The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.