The experimental drone outfit Sunn O))) performed two nights in NYC, as they introduced their brilliant new album: Life Metal. The first show was at Brooklyn Steel, with a full band; the second was an intimate performance at Saint Vitus with Stephen O’Malley & Greg Anderson as a duo or, as they like to call it, Shoshin (初心). The word from Zen Buddhism, meaning “a beginner's mind,” is the perfect analogy for any performance by the band. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time seeing Sunn O))), it’s best to leave any preconceptions at the door and let yourself go with the music. Lack of preconceptions will help you be present at every moment and better understand the full meaning.
The new album takes their guitar drone experimentation to new territories. Life Metal exudes multiple colors of sound in something akin to an exercise on transcendental meditation. The record opens with the majestic Between Sleipnir's Breaths, an ethereal track of slow riffs, accompanied by the Icelandic singer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir on vocals, creating an uncanny atmosphere suitable for travel to another dimension. This song sets the stage for the one hour and nine minutes of sound, which is divided into four parts.
The music is stark, beautiful and eerie; the sound of this album is flawless, as riffs travel the airwaves, intoxicating your ears. Especially with the vinyl version, your senses will enjoy a fully analog recording (AAA), including post-production mixing and editing, which is rare these days when digital processes are so common and unavoidable in production.
The album was recorded at Electrical Audio, by legendary producer Steve Albini, who in the past worked for Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop and Neurosis, among many many others, and whom we visited while he was recording another band (check out the photo essay).
The album closes with the minimalist piece Novae, a track where the guitar dialogue between Greg and Stephen is present and palpable, resulting in an eclectic mix of feedback and heavy riffs that evolve slowly into an ambient string piece. A perfect moment to let your mind become absorbed by the sound.
Much has been said and written about the amount of decibels and choking frequencies at a Sunn O))) performance. We covered them in the past at the Knockdown Center in New York, while they toured with Attila Csihar, the enigmatic singer of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. With Life Metal, however, they created a sound consistent with their canon that also represented a departure. This added a different color palette to their music arsenal, creating a brilliant piece of abstract metal, with riffs that felt alive, evolving into waves of feedback. This is a massive piece of monolithic architectural sound . . . Just drop the needle and enjoy the ride.
Hail to Life Metal.
The colors of Saint Vitus
PHOTOGRAPHY: A.F. CORTÉS