Slow, heavy, beautiful, and very ritualistic. SunnO))) have really outdone themselves on this one. The inclusion of Hungarian yeti-style vocalist Attila Csihar is absolutely brilliant. I got a good deal on this on amazon.com after seeing the show and can’t stop listening to it. There’s so much going on here: a perfect merging of elements from 20th century classical music and the heaviness of black metal.
2009 release, the seventh studio album in their 10 year career. The album showcases the core guitar duo – Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson – incorporating influences from a plethora of guest musicians, bringing the SUNN O))) sound to epic new levels. The band collaborated with composer Eyvind Kang on various acoustic ensembles, in addition to the Helios fueled electric guitars and basses. Key players on the album include Australian guitar genius Oren Ambarchi, enigmatic Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar and slow music godfather Dylan Carlson (Earth), as well as Julian Priester and new-music horn player Stuart Dempster. There’s also an upright bass trio, French & English horns, harp & flute duo, piano, brass, reed & strings ensembles, and a Viennese woman’s choir led by Persian vocal savant Jessika Kenney.
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This is definitely one of the best albums of this year. I would also like to say one of the most engrossing “metal” albums I have ever heard. It is so engrossing because it owes more to the classical compositions of the fifteenth century chamber music and Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders than an early Earth record. I would say that anyone who has not liked Sunn O)) before should definitely check this one out. I was never a fan before (and I still don’t like their other records even if I respect where they were coming from) and I am completely in love with what they have done this time. I really hope they expand on what they did here. The highlight of the album for is definitely “Alice”.
Sunn has always been more than just the drone of their guitars. Their early works might have represented just those simple elements in their purest form, however, it’s clear to me they’ve had higher artistic aspiration with every release of theirs. From working with Japanese noise legend Merzbow, recording abstracted covers of black metal standards and incorporating spoken word passages, what I find remarkable about the band is their ability to grab your attention with the ideas they employ within the stark framework of their compositions. 2005’s “Black One” took their progression a couple steps further, with less emphasis on guitars and more on constructing a bleak atmosphere out of minimalist electronics and wind effects. The result was, in my opinion, their best work.
Until now. My first reaction was more invitational than off-putting. Not that this is alienating music by any right but there was a newfound warmth and vibrancy to the sounds here. The band themselves have stated that this album isn’t just “Sunn with strings” and they couldn’t be more right. The first piece has to be heard to be believed. It doesn’t get more visceral than that. I just started imagining ancient buildings, dilapidation, stinging cold and malicious men in dark robes. The second piece (I hesitate calling these “songs” in any traditional sense) hit me right in the gut. Sprawling chords fused with the most haunting of minor key vocal choirs makes its ten minute run-time feel too brief. By this time I’m convinced this is their finest work to date and by the time the album is over when the guitars have faded into a lulling sonic sphere of brass, bells and even a harp and it’s the most serene moment to be found on just about anything I’ve heard in the last few years I just have to say, this is amazing. It takes a certain measure of talent to fill you with dread one moment and peace the next. Sunn O ))) have this talent. I need to see them live!
Whereas Black One was an exercise in frighteningly evil blackness, this album is truly monolithic. I couldn’t help but think of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also conjured up in my mind were images of what I picture ancient Egypt being overall, with lots of gargantuan statues and obelisks. The horns, the choir, Attila’s vocals and, of course, Lord’s and Soma’s underlying dro)))ne mastery. The highlights for me were “Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)”, and “Alice”, though all were excellent. An excellent follow-up to their last Studio LP, Black One.
If you already know what this band is about, here’s the short version of the review: You will be surprised, you will be transported, you will be lifted and you will not be disappointed. For those of you still uninitiated (or those of the initiated who still aren’t sure what to expect), read on.
First off, this album still has the churning, heavy, droning, all-encompassing bass violence we’ve come to expect from Sunn O))). The downtuned chords still drone ad infinitum. Maximum volume still yields maximum results. But what we get here is an even greater expanded sense of dynamic contrast that was alluded to on their most recent live effort, Dømkirke. Guest vocalist (and frequent Sunn O))) collaborator) Attila Csihar’s monologues come off like a Hungarian Vincent Price at his most dark and unsettling.
Some of the most remarkable moments on this album though come not from O’Malley and Anderson or their core collaborators, but from the arrangements by composer Eyvind Kang. The band expressed early on prior to the release that the goal was to allude to “the timbre of feedback,” and Kang’s arrangements capture this perfectly. The line is often blurred between real feedback coming from the Guitars and Basses and the illusory feedback provided by the strings, horns and women’s chamber choir. Of course, this expanded instrumentation does more than just that. The orchestral arrangements can be breathtaking, particularly in the album’s closing piece, “Alice,” where the chamber group and legendary trombonist Julian Priester swirl around one another to dazzling effect. It brings to mind what might happen if Aaron Copland’s “prairie nationalism” were slowed down to a crawl and successfully combined with American Free Jazz.
This album is a masterpiece of experimental composition and a testament to the beauty that is possible in the “drone metal” genre. Get this, crank it up and lose yourself.