Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XI - Sunn O))) Live (Collected).

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 has 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.

Photography by Koen Jacobs

You could probably make a case that you have to see Sunn O))) live to truly appreciate the band's power. You can put an album on, follow Sunn O)))'s instructions to the letter ("Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results") and you'll feel the abundant weight and density of its sound. However, that's never going to replace standing in front of a gigantic stack of amplifiers as Sunn O))) blasts out seven shades of sub-harmonic hell as you gaze dazzled at hooded figures prowling around on a smoke-filled stage.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


The problem is, many Sunn O))) fans have never seen the band live – myself included. So, live recordings and an inordinate amount of time spent on YouTube has to slate our thirst for the full experience. However, that isn't a tragic tale per se. If you're seeking the recorded Sunn O))) live experience, one of the benefits of the online world is that you've got multiple choices of multiple line-ups in multiple venues at your fingertips, and that's certainly the case when it comes to the live releases collected on Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp page.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


If you want to listen to Attila Csihar's distinctive vocal stylings, or hear a fuller band line-up, you can indulge in the fantastic liturgical overload of Dømkirke, or try LXNDXN Subcamden Underworld Hallo'Ween 2003 – which includes the 49 soul-crushing minutes of "The Libations of Samhain". Solstitium Fulminate contains two tracks recorded live in 2005, and was originally included on the first 2000 copies of the double CD version of Black One.The release sees Csihar, Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson joined by Oren Ambarchi on guitars and electronics, and Tos Nieuwenhuizen on synth, and the band tear a ragged hole into other dimensions with the gloriously abrasive "Wine & Fog" and "Vlad Tepes"– Csihar chanting, growling and gargling with all his diabolic glee.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


Agharti Live 09–10 comes highly recommended too. Recorded at the tail end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, Agharti Live 09–10 sees Monoliths and Dimensions ripped up by O'Malley, Anderson, and Csihar and disgorged in a new form – with songs stretched, reinterpreted and retitled. "Descent/Ascent" and "A/Interior I/Eye" offer two magnificent and mammoth drones orbiting 20 minutes in length, with Randall Dunn's front-of-house recording perfectly capturing all the mind-obliterating fuzz and churning, frequency ferocity.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


While many associate Csihar as being the Sunn O))) vocalist of choice, he's not the only noted black metal howler to have played live with the band. La Mort Noir Dans Exch/ Alzette, recorded in Luxembourg in 2006, features Malefic (Xasthur) out front, joining the usual gruesome twosome of O'Malley and Anderson, and additional noise-makers Dylan Carlson (Earth) on guitars, Tos Nieuwenhuizen on Moog, and Steve Moore on trombone. La Mort Noir Dans Exch/ Alzette also sees Randall Dunn occupying the live sound engineer role again, and accordingly, tracks such as "Hallow-Cave", "Reptile Lux", and the 22-minute lurching onslaught of "CandleGoat/Bathori" are bleeding-raw bruisers; exactly the kind of monoliths of trudge and trample you'd imagine them to be.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


If Sunn O))) as a trio sounds good, then Live White is definitely worth your time too. Joining O'Malley and Anderson on the release is Rex Ritter. And, as is par for the course with Sunn O))) live, the band transforms its recorded works by twisting the roots of tracks from Flight of the Behemoth, OO Void, White1 and White2, and striking them all with a slowly swung sledgehammer of sludge, doom, feedback and distortion. The 17-minute dirge of "Funerældrone // Funerælmarch (To the Grave)" – dedicated to Thorns' Snorre Ruch – is alone worth purchasing Live White for.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


If Sunn O))) as a trio seems excessive, then GrimmRobes Live 101008 – recorded at the Regent Theatre in Los Angles in 2008 – captures the power-house duo of O'Malley and Anderson celebrating the GrimmRobes 10th anniversary concert. Originally issued as an extremely limited tour release, the 90-minute-plus set is, as you'd expect, tyrannosaurus drone drowning in a tar pit – skull-splittingly brutal and all the more beautiful because of it – and The GrimmRobe Demos are also celebrated on Live at Primavera Sound Festival 2009 on WFMU. The famed demo (tracked here as "I | II | III") is performed in lumbering, crushing, and emotionally devastating style in front of an audience of 6,000 in Barcelona – no doubt setting a record for the number of minds Sunn O))) can melt in one sitting.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


In all, Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp live selection provides abundant evidence that the band is always mesmerizing in concert. Some might suggest that a live recording is nowhere close to the in-person live experience, but until the band hits your town, there's more than enough potent and pulverizing fare here.


The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

Tagged with 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, Craig Hayes, doom metal, drone, Sunn O)))
1 comment:
  1. As I mentioned before I was at that show in at the Regent in L.A. Crazy thing was that was not the original venue. It got changed to that place at the last second. The show started very late. They had beer in tubs of ice for sale. None of which were all that cold. But the show was great. The venue was like a some old theater they would put plays on in. Didn't seem like something many bands played in(could be wrong though). The fog machine was running overtime to fill the place. I just past the venue a few weeks back and it is boarded up. Still an amazing show and was the first and only time I got to see Eagle Twin.

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