Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions

     Sunn's Monoliths and Dimensions is an album that I've been mulling over for quite a while now, and is one that I've been listening and relistening to in order to understand and get the sound that the group is trying to produce. I think that after this period, I reckon I'm finally ready to set my thoughts down on the blog. Sunn (or Sunn O))) as their proper title goes) is an American band that's composed of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, amongst other collaborators. Their sound, epitomised by the gaping black hole that engulfs the cover art, is one of doom, drone and ever-present despair. Made up of only four tracks, the songs are monstrously huge and consequently monstrously depressing.
     There isn't any beat to this music, which I suppose was one of the reasons I took against the album when I first heard it. The sound of Sunn is one that is slow and heavy, with constantly low, throbbing guitars that remain submerged, wading through the oil slick that is their deliberate low tuning. If you're expecting me to come back and say that I love this album, you'll be very much mistaken. Although there is a lot to the music, and a lot of that I do like, I'm afraid I'm just too happy a person to be chained to this record. The first track, 'Aghartha', shook me up when I first listened to it. It's low gritty guitars grind and drone their way through most of these seventeen minutes, with an incredibly deep voice introduced that moans rather than sings, with the words vibrating as they leave the singer's lips. The experimentation is brilliant, with the sounds of a river creeping in at the end, but then, the despair is also amplified. I can understand the appeal though, as I too was drawn into the atmosphere, drowning in the noise. If for nothing else, check this album out for the mere experience, which is one I'm told is also present in the band's live performances, with the members dressing in robes and playing very, very loudly.
     Having said that, the album does contain variety, which is the main reason I kept listening to this record. The third track 'Hunting & Gathering' is very much like the first, but the second and final tracks are definitely my favourite. 'Big Church' starts with an eerily high choir, their voices a stark contrast to the bulk of the album. The dynamics are echoed and layered into the soundscape of the song. They feel as though they were recorded in the dead of night at an abandoned church, with the rest of the track wallowing in a ritualistic atmosphere that swallows you up and spits you out to a world void of hope.
     The final song starts off with a much more tangible melody that fades in and out of view. This track doesn't contain as much doom and throbbing undertones as the rest, which is probably why I like it so much! The sound slowly and subtly builds and builds, introducing notes than seemed to usher in a sense of hope, or light from the blackness. The song ends with the drone almost completely gone, the sound made up of tinkles, light dynamics, and a saxophone. This contrast to the rest of the album saved the record from being eternally discarded, for me. Overall, this is some of the best drone and doom metal I've heard in a very long time, but I'm afraid the essence of the genre would hinder my listening to this more than once a month. When I do listen to it though, I am both impressed and depressed, a strange combination of emotions that warrants any music lover's attention. A record not played often, but one that engulfs when it is. Check it out.