Sunn O))))_KannonThe music of American drone metal duo Sunn O))), even though structurally simplistic, is anything but easy to consume. The richness of their sound still pours through layered subtleties that require attentive listening lest they be drowned out by the incisively crumbling riffs. Supported by looong droning noises, wails, screeches, tone shifts, and the rest of their array of inhuman sounds, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson flesh out an artistic expression that requires the listener to forget and relearn how to approach music and sound. Rhythm, melody, and harmony are thus thrown out the window; in their place a different system based on texturally and timbrally intricate aesthetics must be accepted. In that regard, Kannon, their first non-collaborative release since 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, remains a recognizable Sunn O))) record.

While the press blurb will claim that Kannon brings the band closest to “metal” in years, it’s more of a new step in a slightly different direction rather than a regression to earlier efforts such as Black One. Yes, the guitar riffs are prominent and demolishing, the bass lines throb and fill the air, but they appear, as all other familiar elements here, recontextualized and disassociated, serving a mystical, ritualistic purpose. This feeling of otherworldliness is further reinforced through a directness to the music and the prevalence of a specific overarching idea. By anchoring themselves to concepts of Asian spirituality and Buddhism, they’ve reduced the characteristically hermetic levels of abstraction and subjectivity. Instead, they project a clearer and sharper picture onto the listener. These changes can be traced back to Stephen O’Malley’s solo explorations and to the band’s collaborations with avant-garde masters Scott Walker (Soused, 2014) and Ulver (Terrestrials, 2014).

Kannon is simultaneously a condensed offering to Buddha’s “goddess of mercy” or “perceiving the cries of the world” aspect and a sonic emanation of it. Building upon the foundation laid on Dømkirke in 2007, this album represents Sunn O)))’s foray into a succession of liturgic mantras distorted to fit with their own heritage. Keeping with the spiritual theme, Kannon is formed as a single incantational composition or “triadic whole” divided into three rather sharply cut movements that can stand on their own but are best appreciated together. Of those three pieces, “Kannon I” features the strongest meditative atmosphere, largely upheld by Attila Csihar’s slow, murmured and vibrating growls that resemble both black metal rasps and Tibetan throat singing, while the guitars’ abstract screeches are far removed from the band’s usual wall of sound. Its ethereal nature is further underlined by abrasive, displaced synths, and a certain looseness and negative space in the interplay between the instruments. “Kannon II,” on the other hand, touches upon traditional idioms with a doom metal riff leading the way and Csihar’s growl mutating into a kind of deranged Gregorian chant. Finally, Kannon III,” a reworked version of “Cannon” from the aforementioned Dømkirke, acts as an amalgamation of the previous two movements, managing to create a simultaneously reflective and aggressive mood.

Observed as a whole, Kannon is a relatively minimalist and sparse entry in the gallery of Sunn O)))’s works that lacks some of their earlier expansiveness and overwhelming power. The album’s curiously short duration (only 33 minutes) seems to suggest that O’Malley and Anderson’s creativity was restrained and burdened by the singular focus of their theme. Kannon thus feels imagined as an experience or art performance rather than purely a music record, especially when taking into consideration the care poured in the artwork by Swiss designer Angela LaFont Bollinger and the liner notes by critical theorist Aliza Shvartz. Similarly, the production and mastering work is just exquisite, exposing all the microdetail and tangled sound manipulation of the instrumentarium. It beckons to be played loudly, very loudly.

SUNN O)))_2015

Even though different in nature, Kannon certainly isn’t Sunn O)))’s most accessible nor most experimental album, neither will it convert anyone to their drone-doom religion. Yet, whether we choose to see it as a vessel of meditation (BLACK YO)))GA fans, take heed!), transcendental transportation, confrontation, or dissolution, it’s still a worthy, if somewhat underwhelming addition to the creative output of two musicians (plus guests) that are still evolving and mutating despite superficially appearing as ageless pitch-black monoliths adorned with monk robes.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Southern Lord Records
Websites: sunn.bandcamp.com | sunn.southernlord.com | facebook.com/Sunn-O
Releases Worldwide: December 4th, 2015

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  • TheRedLotus

    Can I get a BWO)))O)))M-BWO)))O)))M?

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Yes!!! Black Yo)))ga!!!!

  • robpal

    :-))))))))

  • I just don’t get what this band is offering. I must be too olde.

    • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

      Cloak-Parenthesis Metal

    • You wot m8?

      Yeah. I get what they’re going for, and I think it’s interesting, but I don’t understand how it’s supposed to be enjoyable.

    • So second review? 0.0?

      • Nah, I don’t get their style personally but that doesn’t mean I consider it bad or worthless.

        • Snobbery just isn’t what it used to be.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Let me explain Steely… they are so obssesed with guitar tone that they forget to write songs.

      • I understand now, and don’t call me Steely.

        • Pimpolho

          Steely O)))

          • F_ck O_ _))))))))))

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            That sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant cereal.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            The kind that eats you.

          • Now with extra brine.

          • [not a Dr]

            Wouldn’t that be the bonus prize in every box of Krusty-Os?

          • What that make it surreal?

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            No those are Dali-O’s, the serially surreal cereal.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Sorry about that Steel-O

          • André Snyde Lopes

            You should call him Druhm-Druhm, like the candy.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            This is what Druhm-Druhm made me think of.

          • Are you familiar with our page ban policy?

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Not really… nor do I want to become familiar with it. Do you have a list of don´ts I can print and tape to my monitor?

          • [not a Dr]

            The Skippy List is a good starting point:
            http://skippyslist.com/list/
            especially #29 and #101

      • [not a Dr]

        I have witnessed several awesome guitar players in the early 90s that stopped playing songs and spent hours just adjusting their sound when they “upgraded” from pedals to effect processors.
        This sounds like the limbo in which they were caught.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Except these guys’ limbo is precisely made up of amplifier heads and pedals. Old school limbo.

    • Pimpolho

      Maybe if they sounded like JOOOOOOOORN instead of BWOOOOOOOM they would be better.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      These guys can be hard to get into, like Black Boned Angel. It’s often a stretch to call some of the “songs” in their back catalog Drone. A track like Cursed Realms from the Black One album is more like ambient soundscape.

      I like a lot of their stuff, but I have to be in the right mindframe to give it a listen.

      • [not a Dr]

        The right mindframe…
        To me that would be when mowing the lawn, the garden hose, the vegetable garden, the flowerbeds, the cat and anything else that stands in the way.
        But I’ll have to listen to it some more before I decide if I like Sunn O)))…
        By the way, English being my third language, I am puzzled by the spelling: how do you pronounce “)))”?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          It’s not meant to be pronounced, though if you really had to, you’d say something like “I listen to Sunn O three closing brackets”.

          • [not a Dr]

            Ah… the intricacies of the language…
            It does roll off the tongue better than: Sunn O three closing parentheses

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I thought it was pronnounced Sunn-O with the “O” being pronounced for as long as you can with you tongue sticking out.

        • André Snyde Lopes

          Actually I’ve heard people just call them “Sunn”. Sounds just slightly better than “Sunn, Oh, parenthesis, parenthesis, parenthesis”.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            I have actually met and hung out with Greg Anderson and his pronunciation of the band name is “Sunn.”

          • sir_c

            Sounds very much like the “Ledasha, cos the dash don’t be silent” story I once heard.

          • [not a Dr]

            Eureka! That’s no O, those are not parentheses…
            It’s a sphere.
            And its echoes, reverb, flange and phase-shift.

      • Roquentin

        It’s part “being in the right mindframe” and part, as I wrote in the introduction, learning to appreciate music/sound from a different perspective than the one offered by “mainstream” music.

        Sunn O))) have more in common with noise acts like Prurient, musique concrète outings, or field recordings than with what we’re used to describing as “metal”. Lawrence English, an Australian experimental musician, coined an interesting concept called “relational listening” that tries to describe how the musician-listener dynamics change in these experimental or avant-garde genres.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          That sounds interesting. I’ll have to look into what he or others have written on the topic. Thanks!

    • André Snyde Lopes

      I listened to the Terrestrials collab and… well, I listened to the beginning of the Terrestrials collab because I fell asleep 10 minutes in.

      • Atte Loikkanen

        Yeah, Terrestrials wasn’t that interesting to me either. The Scott-O))) project was really good! Except that it’s actually a Scott album with SUNNBOYZ as the band.

      • This I can get into! I’m a fan.

        • I’m a big fan actually.

      • sir_c

        This track was really refreshing, man! It just keeps revolving between my ears

    • herrschobel

      go see them live and you might get the idea. i literally stopped feeling my body and the ground i was standing on when i first heard them live. disturbing but pleasant (drug like) physical experience. they don´t make much sense on record though

  • IamRipper

    What exactly is the point of this band? There’s nothing resembling music in that embedded track. I guess it’s a good display of what the amps that they named their band after sound like cranked all the way up.. But I could do that myself.

  • tomasjacobi

    I think I’ll stick to Goatsnake.

    • tomasjacobi

      Seems I was too fast with that comment. I’ve now listened through the album a few more times on Spotify and it has already grown on me; I guess I like Greg Anderson both when he’s playing bluesy doom in Goatsnake and when he’s droning in Sunn O)))

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    If Sunn O))) and Shvartz ever decide to mount a full-scale assault on good taste and do some tour or gallery thing together, let me be the first to say: I’m busy that night.

    • Roquentin

      I’ll be there, you know it.

  • george

    this review is as dense as sunn’s wall of sound
    Roquentin-rotarantino, you should be a buddhist for having the patience to collect your thoughts after Kannon

    or maybe you are a robot

    • Roquentin

      Syntax error.

  • JJnetZach

    First track sounds like a “worst-of” collection of the most boring parts from Locrian songs. I don’t know why but I kinda like it…

  • Roquentin

    I see that Sunn O))) remain as divisive as always. Good, good!

  • tim.o

    Very nice review, Roquentin. And a very cool, new addition to the Sunn O))) cannon. Cheers.

  • beurbs

    “By anchoring themselves to concepts of Asian spirituality and Buddhism, they’ve reduced the characteristically hermetic levels of abstraction and subjectivity.”

    (immediately check to see if I accidentally went to Pitchfork)

    • Roquentin

      Crap, I’ve been discovered!

  • Noobhammer

    This album reminds me of Boris’ “Flood” (though nowhere as good as that one). I feel for me personally, it’s a bit of a grower, but I can definitely see myself enjoying it. But it seems like they kind of played it safe with this one, and went with more tame stuff, expected stuff, than some of the ambitious and out there songs on “Monoliths and Dimensions”, i.e. ‘Big Church’.