Album Review: Sunn O))) – Kannon
Seattle drone pioneers Sunn O))) recently released their first ‘solo’ album in six years (last year’s Soused being an apparently one-off collaboration with Scott Walker), and it’s a typically ominous, expansive and exceedingly heavy affair. Not quite reaching the black metal-esque intensity of 2005’s Black One or the (comparatively) gentler, more orchestral experimentation of 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions, Kannon seems to exist somewhere between the styles implemented on those last two albums, and – coming in atthe tail end of the year – feels appropriately ‘wintery’; chilly and bleak but strangely beautiful and compelling. This is music for long dark nights (of the soul, or otherwise).
‘Heaviness’ is a broad and vague term, but one of those things you intuitively just know when you hear it. Sunn O))) have always had it in spades, creating dark, gloomy, enveloping soundscapes with minimal instrumentation – often just very detuned, distorted guitars, throbbing bass, and enigmatic, cryptic vocals (Sunn O))) releases often feature other musicians, but the ‘core band’, if you like, is just two men: Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson). They employ distortion, feedback and just sheer volume like no other band, as though placing the listener in a vaguely uneasy trance state, stoking some subconscious reptile level of the brain which is at once pacified and vaguely threatened by the glacial drone of guitars tuned down to the boots, and played veeeeery slooooowly, through amps turned all the way up.
Kannon invokes this kind of state throughout its three tracks (simply titled ‘Kannon, Pt. 1’. ‘Kannon, Pt. 2’ and ‘Kannon, Pt. 3’). The usual enormity of the guitar riffs – played with precise, lumbering intent as they patiently build, and build, and build some more, without ever quite erupting – combines with some ethereal, ghostly electronic atmospherics, which tend to swell and swirl just underneath the bass, as though a developing ice storm. Hungarian black metal vocalist Atilla Csihar provides the same kind of eerie, unsettling rumble he’s brought to several Sunn O))) tracks in the past, and is joined every now and then by what sounds like a kind of cultish hymn chanting. The effect will be alienating and maybe even bewildering to some, but as ever, the patient listener may find it strangely reflective and meditative, which feels appropriate, as the album is apparently based on the Buddhist concept of Guanshiyin, or “Perceiving the Sounds (or Cries) of the World”.