I’ve heard recently a lot of criticism levelled at Sunn O))) in the course of my research into their work. Being the posterchildren for the tiny but massively important drone movement means they probably get more stick than most, Earth is like god, Dylan Carlson knew Cobain so he and his ilk are a sacred cow, but Sunn O))) not only are up to their wretched devout necks in super sludge, but the name gets bandied around quite a bit. A lot of criticism going along the lines of ‘anyone can play slow, it doesn’t take any talent’. If you play a note which lasts for three seconds, or like on Earth 2, lasts for fifteen minutes, you’d better pick that note pretty carefully. Sure the songs might not be technically accomplished but the crescendos of truly horrifying noise take some really very careful craftspersonship. Each stroke must be perfect because it won’t be lost in any maelstrom of noise, it will be poured over and dissected, so it better be perfect.
This is the Blade Runner soundtrack downplayed. Dark, lazy, unpleasant rhythms seem to have to be dragged out of the instruments like a doctor resorting to pliers to get at a bullet. It’s the sound of fire alarms running across your blood-flecked vision as you look up at the ceiling unable to move. Unending doom. There is no light, no resolve, no catharsis. You have your head plunged under the putrescent waters of abject misery, the sounds that will ring out across the world when there’s nobody left to hear them, a nuclear wasteland untainted by human habitation, scoured clean by god, kept locked up in little metal canisters dropped from crazy metal birds. I once put all of the Sunn O))) albums into a playlist, which totalled over eight hours, and played it over the course of a day at home. By the evening, with darkness beginning to creep from the corners of my flat behind the sofas, I tried to hold myself steady, keep the playlist rolling. Like watching a horror film, my hands began to unconsciously clasp the arm of the sofa until I looked and my knuckles were white. The albums hadn’t just been playing on the stereo, the sounds coming from the stereo sounded minor compared to all that noise coming from the next room. Something extremely powerful and sleepily violent was waiting in there. I could hear it’s grumblings. It had come out of the stereo. Maybe when I had taken a bath and hadn’t been looking, this thing, blacker than the night, visible even against the blackness of the room as a deeper hole into which all light seemed to be pulled. A darkness and an evil that lives in the earth was now in my flat. I opened the windows and that did nothing but make the darkness seem more radiant. I looked down at all the little people moving past in the evening, and met their eyes. What must they have thought of me? Someone in the sky, standing in front of a wave of some of the most mercilessly violent bomb-blast beat blackness ever heard. I know I musta blown someones mind. There is someone out there who didn’t comprehend that kind of music existing, not ever really. And now he can’t look at his local record shop for fear that the next song they play might be from Black One and be of such head-liquefying intensity that it would shake the fillings from his teeth.
What Sunn O))) do is they take Earth 2 – Special Low Frequency Version (of which I am a devout worshipper) and turn what was already a pretty hectic sound into something so instantly recognisable and unjustly corrupt that it becomes like an awareness rather than listening experience. The key inclusion is vocals. Screams of souls lost in the ether forever. Those empty souls in Dante’s opening stanzas, born too early to experience enlightenment, born too early to be taken to hell. Listen to the screaming angel calls from Monoliths and Dimensions, their seminal and frankly best release, Jesus those scared me first time round.
There isn’t a whole lot else to say. Do I love it? Undeniably. Would I recommend this trip to anyone? Yes, especially to the unprepared and the uninitiated, a vicious beating teaches you even more when you didn’t see it coming. We talk about music here being a gateway. Rock and roll is your best chance of psychic transportation, but Sunn O))) revolutionise the formula by really destroying music and simply building a gateway. Think that’s a CD you’re holding? Think again motherfucker, you just press your palm up against it and watch your hand pass right through and into a darker dimension. And yes Dad, it is ‘just noise’.
Written under duress by Steven