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.
In 2004, Sunn O))) released White2, the band's counterpart to 2003's White1. What defined White1 was Sunn O)))'s investigations into the understated potential of sounds less overtly thundering than before, but White2 ("optimized for blackened Sub-Bass systems") marked a return to directly menacing realms. The album continues Sunn O)))'s challenge to the listener, inviting you to consider the subconscious, subliminal and conceptual potential of experimental sounds, and the Bandcamp version of the album offers four ponderous reverberations of low-frequency, nose-bleeding, avant/über-doom--with vinyl bonus track "Decay1 [The Symptoms of Kali Yuga]" included (should you need yet another reason to be downloading this version).
Opener "Hell-O)))-Ween" produces a series of gnarly chords that Sunn O))) mine over and over for 14 minutes of sub-harmonics meeting Sabbathian power– for a return to the thickset repetitious dirges of the past. Following track, "bassAliens", begins with haunting droplets of sound before heaving itself into a mix of electronic crackles, feedback and bass buzz (with gaseous, disintegrating blurps ending all). However, it's all really a set-up for album highlights "Decay2 (Nihils' Maw)" and "Decay1 (The Symptoms of Kali Yuga)", which are astonishingly psychologically heavy 25-minute-plus drones of mysticism and creeping mayhem.
Both songs feature vocals from Attila Csihar, who would go on to contribute to Sunn O))) in a far stronger capacity on future releases. Here, Csihar recites passages from the ancient Indian text Shrimad Bhagavatum. Sunn O))) and guests sculpt otherworldly and desolate drones around his guttural voice with waves of feedback and pulses of noise bolstering the portentous readings. "Decay2 (Nihils' Maw)" and "Decay1 [The Symptoms of Kali Yuga]" are bone-chilling in their minimalism--and of course utterly thrilling too. While the evil chanting is akin to Satan whispering in your ear, the Indian religiousness proves that Old Nick doesn't have a monopoly on all the darkness, or the apocalyptic menace.
White2 offers a vivid and decidedly nontraditional portrayal of a yawning, monstrous maw; either that, or it's simply the sound of the universe dying. Somewhere in between the two is probably closest to the truth, but as the guitars, bass and electronics convulse, churn, fragment and realign, the extra-sensory and out-of-this-world reward is wantonly dispensed. The album, like its predecessor White1, offers a sacred space to retreat to and ponder upon (even confront) the extramundane. In all, White2's unorthodox instrumentation and phrasings brought Sunn O))) a lot more media cover, but the band's next release, Black One, would take things even further--both sonically, and in terms of the attention it brought the band.
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The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.