Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions
Southern Lord (2009)
I doubt it’s possible to sit on the fence with a band like Sunn O))). There are those who find the band’s dense drones and theatrics self indulgent; and those who believe in the motto ‘Let There be Doom!’
I fall into the latter category.
Those willing to explore the dark realms of Sunn O))) know that the band’s significance lies in its ability to push the boundaries of this weirdo genre known as drone. In my opinion the band didn’t become that interesting until they broke their minimalist mould on the White 2 album, of which the opening track, Hell-O)))-Ween is still my favourite Sunn O))) jam. Since then, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have continued to augment their sound by collaborating with a number of vocalists, sound artists and non metal-related musicians. They’re no longer about being ‘heavy’; they’re about transcendence, atmosphere and experimentation. Sunn O))) are a cult.
Last year they released the limited edition Domkirke – four tracks recorded live in a Norwegian church featuring a stunning pipe organ. I thought that was as far as the band could go, until I heard Monoliths and Dimensions.
Agartha opens the album with a standard avalanche of guitars, but it soon recedes into a misty ride through scraping violins and subtle electronic buzz. Former Mayhem vocalist, Attila Csihar croaks eerily over the top in a thick Hungarian accent. I get visions of Dracula deep in the bowels of a 19th Century ship bound for England, the bow creaking and the ocean breeze whispering. Agartha ends with a subtle hiss one thousand times removed from its crushing intro, and guarantees this album is headed for big things.
Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) centres itself on a choral choir. It’s pure genius. The perfect accompaniment to Sunn O)))’s plodding rituals, and bizarrely reminiscent of Bjork’s work with large vocal groups.
Elsewhere we’re treated to haunting string arrangements, pianos and French horns all playing those low-end notes that fans have come to love from Sunn O))). When these arrangements aren’t accentuating the band’s traditional elements, they can often sound ‘heavier’ than anything Sunn O))) has done on guitar. The mix is most successful on the record’s closing number and highlight, Alice. Twanging guitars drip from your speakers in an obvious reference to O’Malley’s awesome side project KTL. A simple four-note refrain repeats meditatively while French horns gently serenade and magical keys ring out from the neither world. The cycle wears itself out until we’re left with nothing but the soft sounds of a reed section and harps (yes, harps!) fluttering away into the blackened sky.
Alice is a mature counterpoint to the menace emanating from the rest of Monoliths & Dimensions, and testament to the innovative brilliance of this band. It’s a contemplative and down-right intriguing listen, sometimes scary but never ugly. Sunn O))) continue to re-invent themselves without alienating fans, and they’re proving that they plan to do this for some time to come. If you’ve never understood Sunn O))) before, this is the album that will lure you over the fence.