Growing up in New England, very rarely did I miss a concert. Any and all big-name metal bands that came around, I would be there, no questions asked. However, having lived in Jacksonville, Florida for the last five years, there’s been a major dearth of quality metal concerts in my newly-adopted hometown. So when a co-worker of mine told me that the legendary Sunn O))) were playing here in Jacksonville as part of a tour to support last year’s Kannon, I thought he was absolutely full of shit, but to find out that they’re playing at Sun-Ray Cinema, a local, independent movie theater that’s a literal two-minute walk from my place of employment, well… it had to be too good to be true, right? Later that week, I walked there after work, asked about Sunn O))) playing there, and the guy working the lobby told me to get my ticket now, so I did. Two days later, the venue was already sold out. People in Jacksonville are starving for great metal shows, and to that end, Sunn O))) didn’t disappoint.
But first, the venue. Sun-Ray Cinema is located in the historic Five Points district in Jacksonville, named after the fact that this area has a rotary circle with five streets or “spokes,” and is infamous for many accidents, cussing matches, and pedestrians signaling cars with the one magic finger salute. Inside, it’s actually quite spacious, with a roomy lobby containing a decent-sized Vegan-friendly concession stand and a lone Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike arcade cabinet. I grabbed a blondie (a brownie that’s… not brown) and a pint of beer, made my way to the equally spacious movie theater where I was greeted with back-to-back playings of Dissection‘s “Where Dead Angels Lie” and Amorphis‘ “Black Winter Day,” and proceeded to take my seat with my co-worker and some friends.
Within minutes, Montreal’s Big|Brave got things thundering. This minimalist three-piece is making waves with 2015’s Au De La and live, they leveled with their formula which combined the heaviness of Neurosis, the airy vocals of Björk, and the drenched feedback of early Isis. Drummer Louis-Alexandre Beauregard was a sight to behold, as he was switching out pieces of his tiny drum kit while playing and providing a counter vocal to Robin Wattie’s anguished singing. Very little crowd interaction was had, but none was even necessary, as the crowd gave a great round of applause once the final throes of feedback washed over the audience.
Just as soon as Big|Brave gathered their equipment and proceeded to head off stage, the fog machines kicked in. Now, to give you a rough idea as to how filled the cinema was, picture several minutes of non-stop fog. When you make your way upstairs to the bathrooms, you can’t see shit (literally) because of all the fog. It was a bukkake of fog. If Xzibit were there, he’d happily say, “Yo, dawg! I heard you like fog, so I put some fog in your fog!!!” So much fog was pumped in that the fire alarms went off, causing confusion and laughter throughout the crowd. I gotta admit, I had no problem with this, as I was battling both allergy problems and sleep deprivation, so the effect was both a mood enhancer and a relaxing humidifier.
Finally, after about a half-hour wait (and someone dismantling the fire alarm), four cloaked figures arrived on stage, some clutching guitars, others clutching beer, and Sunn O))) manned their stations. Now, I’ve heard stories from people where the sheer volume caused people to vomit profusely or make the “brown note” myth a reality. What I can say is this: once the first chord was strummed, my sinuses miraculously cleared up, I could self-echolocate the blondie I ate earlier within my colon, and if I was standing, I would have been moved a good 15 feet by the sheer heft and weight of the volume brought forth by the guitars and synthesizers. Within minutes, the pulsating undulations from Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley envelop you, pulling you into a comforting lull that stretches forth for the next 90 minutes of volume, weight, and density. The occasional audible synthesizer melodies by Tos Nieuwenhuizen and Steve Moore (ex-Earth), as well as the random trombone by Moore, brought much-needed glimmers of light and hope amid the thick fog.
Thirty minutes into the gig, Attila Csihar (Mayhem) takes the stage, adding a captivating central figure to the soundscape. Throughout the set, Csihar moaned, chanted, squawked, shrieked, sang into a talisman that looked like an O)))-shaped cigar cutter, made incomprehensible noises while wearing what looked like a dead-skin mask, and proceeded to make a self-made laser light show with his Statue of Liberty suit made out of reflective glass and knuckle-clamped laser beams. For all the jokes I made previous about his performances with Mayhem reminding me of the Sancho character from the movie Orgazmo, Csihar was intimidating, captivating, terrifying, and utterly enthralling on stage that night.
At the magic hour of midnight, the band’s undulating vibrations quieted down, the pulsations deadened, and the room went black. Seconds later, the lights came on, and all five men, clad in either robes or Csihar’s reflective get-up, took a bow to a rightfully-earned standing ovation. Seeing all of them smiling and toasting the crowd was quite a sight to behold after the sheet amount of volume they leveled us with. Like a church congregation, we all disassembled and parted company. Despite feeling drained and weary, with my insides still quivering a day later, I can vouch that this was one of the best live experiences I have ever had in my entire life.
Thank you, Sunn O)), Big|Brave, and Sun-Ray Cinema for hosting such a momentous occasion. And Jacksonville? More of this, please.