I recently read an article in Science magazine that stated that 87% of all metalheads like metal. Interesting… And, of this 87%, 97% consider drone to be their favorite genre of any in the world. And this isn’t limited to metal. This includes rap, country, K-pop, hip-hop, cock rock, pussy punk, and foreskin crust. I mean, who am I to question science or math? The numbers are real and, with the help of Melissa & Doug Abacus’ counting beads, it all makes sense. What’s interesting about the article is, of the 97% of metalheads that identified as drone metallers, 98% didn’t know it. Isn’t that remarkable? To think, all this time, you’ve been a closet drone fan. A startling discover even I didn’t believe. Until now.
If you think my finding this incredible, fully-accurate scientific article at the exact time I picked up Sunn O)))‘s newest record is a hoax of enormous proportions, you are a fiend, a hater, and a troll. Fate is how I was able to come across this magnificent article, written by renowned scientists. Fate brought me to this article just as the opening chords of Life Metal‘s “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” caught me exploring the world of GoT porn. Fate, my drone-loving friends, is a mystical force that lights your heart with wondrous colors. Like the brilliant lights of the “Aurora,” it can thwart you with a “Troubled Air” or light your life with a thousand radiant “Novæ.” Fate shouldn’t be trusted, my beloved droners. That is Life Metal. But, don’t despair, drone on, my friends. Through the sunn, the moonn, and the starry night skyo))).
As with all great scientific publications,1 the claims need supporting.2 For one, Odin’s Wild Hunt, screaming forth from the opening moments of “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths,” is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.3 Following the trample of those eight, majestic feet, the graceful vocals of Hildur Guðnadóttir hit the airwaves. Though an ocean leap from the throat-raping gargles of Attila Csihar, Guðnadóttir’s vocal contributions follow in like approach to her predecessor.45 Once the vocals settle in, the song ascends to the storm clouds and rides the haunting torrent until it dissipates.
With its surprising female vox—versus the burly, male Hungarian’s—the opener is the only track of the album that has vocals. Though Science proves that the closer is the best track on that album. For almost twenty-six minutes, “Novæ” transforms from screaming infant to one whose eyes explore the outside world. Yet, like the guitars and bass, this child uses its virgin muscles in an extraordinary way. It combines brain with brawn to squeeze its tiny hand around an adult’s finger. When her eyes open,6 a new phase of life breathes through “Novæ.” A phase that finds Hildur Guðnadóttir in the front row once more. But, instead of vocals, she uses the power of the halldorophone. An instrument married to the layers and textures of Sunn O))) (((as science has shown)).
Between the other two tracks, “Troubled Air” is the best. Though not as memorable or epic as the closer, it’s a building piece that uses keys and organ in a Blade Runner-esque kinda way. This track drones along, achieving an explosive finale that combines layered textures with a whirling frenzy described only by peering at the album artwork. Unfortunately, the final piece is one of the weakest (and longest) tracks on the album. Though “Aurora” has that quintessential Sunn O))) sound that first enrapturing the world in ’00, it doesn’t have the staying power of Life Metal‘s two bookends.
While Life Metal calculates out to be 50% good and 75% decent, our key Science article states the greatest contribution the genre will ever give to metalheads across the world: dynamic range. In chemistry, the lower the pH, the more acidic; the lower the pKa, the more reactive. As per Science, these qualities are perfection for a metal release. That’s why Life Metal is mixed at DR2. The more compression, the stronger the product. Science, my friends. Yet, scientific reason suggests that Life Metal isn’t the best outing by Sunn O))). Though it is more “feel good” than previous releases. For 97% of the population, this will be pure satisfaction. For the other 12%, this might bore them. I can’t wait for part two, coming out later this year!
DR: 2 | Format Reviewed: 1411 kbps WAV
Label: Southern Lord Recordings
Website: sunn.bandcamp.com | sunn.southernlord.com | facebook.com/sunnthebandofficial
Releases Worldwide: April 19th, 2019
Written by: Dear Hollow
Sunn O))) is not well received around these parts. When AMG’s distinguished editors and contributors were given the opportunity to review these droning doomsters, it was met with such reactions as GardensTale‘s verbal bitch-slap “I’d rather stick my hand in a blender” or Mark Z.‘s sick burn “Can I just review my washing machine running for two hours instead?” Love ’em or hate ’em, we can all agree on one universal idea about drone: it can be boring as fuck. Our “Sunn-y” side up Seattle pals Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley provide an “eggs-act” (hey-o!) snapshot of the scene itself in their offerings, ranging from the excellent sinister blackened tones of Black One and the enigma of Monoliths & Dimensions, to the pathetically limp White1 and White2 and the shooting-your-shot-and-defs-missing Kannon—all varying quality, but regardless saturated in six feet of droney fuzz. So will the ninth full-length and blandly titled Life Metal breathe new life into metal?
The whole point of drone and drone metal, as I heard somewhere, is not to be catchy but to catch you. Groups like Earth, Black Boned Angel, and Horseback have unique and visceral interpretations of the genre’s core idiosyncracy: like, Black Sabbath riffs but like reeeeaaally slowed down. In that light, Sunn O)))‘s sound has always been a baseline of sorts in tone and execution, and Life Metal‘s plodding interpretation is no exception.
Thus, if you know these guys, then you know what to expect: Life Metal is classic Sunn O))) as you know them, consisting of absolutely crushing mammoth riffs full of droney feedback with opaque melody, ambient backdrops, and minimal percussion. Vocals have always been a wild card, whether it be blackened rasps, spoken word, or whimpered moans, and this album highlights isolated instances of Icelandic cellist and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s solemn croons in opener “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths.” Otherwise, with signature drone/doom sound bleeding through the speakers in what-the-hell-are-beats-per-minute fashion, I can say that, yep, this is definitely a Sunn O))) album.
Due to the expansiveness and density (perhaps monotony) of Life Metal and the project’s sound in general, it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint an excellent passage or highlight any given instrument. Its strangely evocative atmosphere, however, is its main selling point and clearly its most divisive quality. It’s difficult to judge objectively because what is heard in the yawning void varies from listener to listener. “Troubled Air” exudes a sense of peace and serenity, while behemoth closer “Novae” locked my mind into a sense of fuzzy bliss in its wavering tones. Overall, it’s clear that the thundering atmospheric soundscapes are the main attraction, and if you’re looking for subterranean crawls laden with layers of feedback and ambiance, boy, oh boy, this is just what the doctor ordered.
Sunn O))) does nothing bad, per se, and at the end of it, Life Metal‘s only crime is the fact that it’s drone and I’m conflicted by that. It’s definitely a Sunn O))) album, hell, it’s probably the most Sunn O))) album to ever Sunn O))) if you can discern between the tracks. It’s definitely a commitment at over an hour runtime, but it was not as daunting as I first expected. Gone are the subtle experimentations of their latest offerings and presented are the bare bones—there is something to be said about the droning simplicity and lack of pretense. I got something out of the expansive soundscapes, but I also understand that not everyone will. Its rumbling crawls are not for the faint of heart… or those who don’t like to listen to dishwashers for fun. Depending on the listener, this may be evocative or powerful, or it might be boring as fuck. Now what I don’t understand is why Life Metal needs a part two…
- Especially those of the clickbaiting Science. ↩
- The same sciencey justifications we music reviewers use. ↩
- Writer’s Note #1: Troll friends of mine have suggested that the opener’s introduction sounds an awful lot like Bathory‘s “Odin’s Ride Over Nordland.” But, let me remind you, drone pre-dates Quorthon. ↩
- Writer’s Note #22: This is the first full-length release since 2004 that hasn’t included Csihar. Which is interesting because “life metal” is the term Euronymous of Mayhem—whom Csihar was a member of—uses to describe death metal bands in the film, Lords of Chaos. ↩
- Writer’s Note #D: Though posers will suggest Attila Csihar got his start with black metal bands Tormentor and Mayhem, Science has proven that Sunn O)))‘s White2 predates Tormentor‘s 1989 demo, Anno Domini. ↩
- Scientists say this happens weeks from now. ↩