August 12, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XII - The Rehearsal Demo, Oracle, and Angel Coma.

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.

We're nearing the end of this Monoliths and Opinions project; in fact, you're reading the penultimate post right now. So far, we've covered Sunn O)))'s full-lengths, live albums, and a few collaborations, and from here on in we're picking up splits, singles, and a few one-off releases. 

The Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 is, as the title suggests, a stripped down release. Recorded in Los Angles, mixed in Paris, and mastered by Audiosiege studio extraordinaire, Brad Boatright you can expect plenty of organ-liquifying heft and heave. Originally available on Sunn O)))'s 2012 European and US East Coast tour dates, Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 contains three raw, rumbling and reverb soaked drones, with samples added on from Russian director Konstantin Lopshansky's post-apocalyptic film, Posetitel Muzeya. "Holy Water", "Peacock Angel" and "Power Nurse" are all, as you'd expect from a rehearsal, lengthy chest-crushing dirges where Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson wrangle the riffs and wrestle with the feedback and distortion to search for points worth further exploring. Very much in keeping with Sunn O)))'s earliest work – and thereby evoking Lopshansky's vision of a broken world very well – the Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 is fittingly bleak and dispiriting. 

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunn O)))'s work has always sat right at the nexus between mind-obliterating, doom-drenched chaos and avant-garde artistry. As a result, the band's unorthodox craftsmanship has appealed to many in the contemporary art world, and that appreciation is best represented by Sunn O)))'s 2007, three-song EP, Oracle. Born from a collaboration with New York-based sculptor Banks Violette – who cast Sunn O)))'s backline and instrumentation in resin and salt for an exhibition at London's Maureen Paley Gallery in 2006 – Sunn O))) provided the song "Orakulum" to soundtrack the presentation. The aim of the exhibit was to evoke feelings of absence, loss and a, "phantom of what once was", and there's no doubt the tectonic reverberations and slow, sinister slides up the fret-board on "Orakulum" do just that. 

Giant molten chords grind inexorably forward on "Orakulum", and mixed with Attila Cishar's gargles and growls, it must have sounded intensely powerful, and equally discomforting, in the enclosed space of a gallery performance. Also included on Oracle is the eccentric horror/doom of "Belülről Pusztít", which sees Cishar's demonic vocals echoed by Predator-like clicks and rattles, Joe Preston wielding an actual jackhammer, and the rest of the band clanging and crashing like a collapsing factory in the background. Final track, "Helio)))sophist", is an album unto itself. It features a collage of recordings taken from the band's European tour in July 2005, and accordingly, it's 46 demented minutes of trawling, crawling, and bone-rattling cacophonies.  

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Of course, all that bone-rattle had to come from somewhere, and as Sunn O))) has always made explicitly clear, the band has been hugely inspired by the godfather of dirge and drone, Earth. Sunn O))) have paid that debt back in numerous ways, collaborating with Earth founder Dylan Carlson and, of course, O'Malley and Anderson's famed label Southern Lord helped rejuvenate Earth's career.  Angel Coma is a split release from both bands, sold on their European tour in 2006, and on Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp page, you'll find their contribution to the split represented by, "Coma Mirror" and "Coma Mirror (no vocals). 

The track might come as a surprise for anyone expecting Sunn O))) to tip their hat to Earth and provide something akin to Carlson's current (and wholly magnificent) dusty and psychedelic drone. Instead, "Coma Mirror" is 13-minutes of ear-piercing and delightfully disagreeable blackened noise, with power-electronics provided by noise combatant John Wiese, and wraithlike vocals from the abyss courtesy of Xasthur. "Coma Mirror" builds and builds, with thunderous, gnarled and pestilential layers heaped atop denser choke-holds of noise, till it all becomes one cyclonic, head-fuck entanglement of overloaded, pulverized and distorted riffs and electronics. It's a great track, one of the most impenetrable and, in turn, fascinating tracks that Sunn O))) have produced – having much in common with experimental dark noise/metal band's like Locrian or Gog . With Angel Coma originally released on very limited, and now exceedingly rare, vinyl, it's well worth your time to pick "Coma Mirror" up. 

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

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