Digging: Sunn O))) – White 2

Sunn O))) – White 2
Southern Lord Records (2004)

According to WordPress the most common way for people to stumble across this blog, by far, is while searching for info on Sunn O))). Which is interesting given that I’ve only written one proper post about them to date. This fascinating tidbit of information got me thinking about my favourite Sunn O))) record, the oft overlooked White 2.

Springing from the same sessions as the more popular White 1, this marks a period where the band evolved their sludged out, droning riffs into a moodier, more experimental beast inspired by Black Metal’s weirder moments. I love White 2 largely because of the opener, Hell-O)))-Ween which isn’t the band’s most adventurous moment, but definitely among their most sophisticated. Unlike the other material which makes up the White albums, Hell-O)))-Ween consists of two single guitar tracks – no vocals, drums, electronics or other wizardry. It’s essentially a rehash of the low-slung riffage they made famous on their first three releases, but at this point in their career the band have the cash and studio know-how to make those guitars sound incredibly fucking BIG. And clear. Totally unlike the lo-fi murk on Flight of the Behemoth or The Grimm Robe Demos. The sound on Hell-O)))-Ween is so crystalline you can feel each bubble of distortion as it lurches out of their amps.

It opens with a single, reverberating note before a second guitar begins a mid tempo riff that slides around the fret board in a fashion unlike the band’s early work. The faster-than-usual tempo of this riff, and the number of octaves it covers create a shifting, almost seasick quality. With the original guitar still reverberating underneath, everything is noisy and disorientating. Yes, droning. But two minutes in the guitars suddenly sync up and tackle the riff in unison to create a hypnotising momentum. When I play this thing loud, in headphones I honestly feel like I’m flying. The volume of sound and intense distortion never fail to affect me physically. I’ve never seen the band play live, but I imagine this is exactly how the audience feels.  Hell-O)))-Ween is the one time that Sunn O))) have managed to capture on tape the live magic that people talk about. And its simplicity makes it all the more powerful.

The rest of White 2 stands out for completely the opposite reason; the lack of distorted guitar riffs. Which is something the band won’t really do again until last 2009’s triumphant Monoliths and Dimensions. Track two, bassAliens (sic) is a 23 minute ride through ambient dungeons where strange things rattle in the background and water plops into mossy puddles, while KTL inspired guitars twang and an impossibly low bass drifts in and out of range. Decay2 [Nihils Maw] delves further into ambience by balancing guitar detritus against hollow groans, demonic hissing and rumbling bass.

On the one hand, White 2 blows my mind because its opening tune is Sunn O))) reaching the pinnacle of what they’d previously strived for (namely Earth inspired driftage), before they begin pushing the boundaries of drone in the spirit that fans love them for. Many would say that it is White 1 that marks a turning point for the band, but I disagree. If Monoliths and Dimensions has caught your attention and you want to hear Sunn O))) taking their first steps into the unknown, pick up a copy of White 2.

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