on May 26, 2009
If you already know what this band is about, here's the short version of the review: You will be surprised, you will be transported, you will be lifted and you will not be disappointed. For those of you still uninitiated (or those of the initiated who still aren't sure what to expect), read on.
First off, this album still has the churning, heavy, droning, all-encompassing bass violence we've come to expect from Sunn O))). The downtuned chords still drone ad infinitum. Maximum volume still yields maximum results. But what we get here is an even greater expanded sense of dynamic contrast that was alluded to on their most recent live effort, Dømkirke. Guest vocalist (and frequent Sunn O))) collaborator) Attila Csihar's monologues come off like a Hungarian Vincent Price at his most dark and unsettling.
Some of the most remarkable moments on this album though come not from O'Malley and Anderson or their core collaborators, but from the arrangements by composer Eyvind Kang. The band expressed early on prior to the release that the goal was to allude to "the timbre of feedback," and Kang's arrangements capture this perfectly. The line is often blurred between real feedback coming from the Guitars and Basses and the illusory feedback provided by the strings, horns and women's chamber choir. Of course, this expanded instrumentation does more than just that. The orchestral arrangements can be breathtaking, particularly in the album's closing piece, "Alice," where the chamber group and legendary trombonist Julian Priester swirl around one another to dazzling effect. It brings to mind what might happen if Aaron Copland's "prairie nationalism" were slowed down to a crawl and successfully combined with American Free Jazz.
This album is a masterpiece of experimental composition and a testament to the beauty that is possible in the "drone metal" genre. Get this, crank it up and lose yourself.
on December 30, 2009
Sunn has always been more than just the drone of their guitars. Their early works might have represented just those simple elements in their purest form, however, it's clear to me they've had higher artistic aspiration with every release of theirs. From working with Japanese noise legend Merzbow, recording abstracted covers of black metal standards and incorporating spoken word passages, what I find remarkable about the band is their ability to grab your attention with the ideas they employ within the stark framework of their compositions. 2005's "Black One" took their progression a couple steps further, with less emphasis on guitars and more on constructing a bleak atmosphere out of minimalist electronics and wind effects. The result was, in my opinion, their best work.
Until now. My first reaction was more invitational than off-putting. Not that this is alienating music by any right but there was a newfound warmth and vibrancy to the sounds here. The band themselves have stated that this album isn't just "Sunn with strings" and they couldn't be more right. The first piece has to be heard to be believed. It doesn't get more visceral than that. I just started imagining ancient buildings, dilapidation, stinging cold and malicious men in dark robes. The second piece (I hesitate calling these "songs" in any traditional sense) hit me right in the gut. Sprawling chords fused with the most haunting of minor key vocal choirs makes its ten minute run-time feel too brief. By this time I'm convinced this is their finest work to date and by the time the album is over when the guitars have faded into a lulling sonic sphere of brass, bells and even a harp and it's the most serene moment to be found on just about anything I've heard in the last few years I just have to say, this is amazing. It takes a certain measure of talent to fill you with dread one moment and peace the next. Sunn O ))) have this talent. I need to see them live!
on July 7, 2009
The black robe wearing kings of drone Greg Anderson and Stephen O' Malley who are Sunn O))) have set the bar so highly on "Monoliths and Dimensions" that no other doom metal album will be able to compare this year. Needless to say, you won't find many of the tracks in heavy rotation on radio due to their length and genre limitations. "Monoliths and Dimensions" is a massive album that consists of four songs with an approximate playtime of 53 minutes. Fresh from their recent outing "Domkirke" where they used the ancient cathedral as an instrument, Sunn O))) return with guest-star heavy songs intermixed with their drones. Whereas Sunn O))) previously had limited involvement with others such as Japanese noise rockers Boris and Oren Ambarchi, "Monoliths and Dimensions" is bursting full of musicians. Ambarchi returns as does Attila Csihar, Earth's Dylan Carson, trombonist Julian Priester and multi-instrumentalist Steve Moore.
"Monoliths and Dimensions" could have easily collapsed under the weight of all this collaboration but the change brings out the best in the band. Opener "Aghartha" is a plodding 17-minute epic that ominously oozes into the listener's brain as Attila Csihar intones about the creation of a new Earth. "Big Church" follows and feels like a ghostly soundtrack to a forgotten Italian horror film. Choirs envelope the surrounding drone while a chant begins another invocation. A guitar breaks the invocation like a scythe before the choir returns ratcheting up the tension to almost unbearable levels. "Hunting & Gathering" offers all the drama of good black metal. Crunchy guitars mesh next to heavy keys and bells. The most unexpected song on here is "Alice" an almost ambient piece resolved by the jazzy tones of Julian Priester's trombones. As "Monoliths and Dimensions" closes, it becomes obvious that Sunn O))) are standing at the precipice of a new form of unsympathetically heavy and intelligent metal. Somewhere, something is smiling from the abyss.
on January 17, 2016
This album is one of the most unique heavy albums I've heard, and as I'm a metal fan and overall fan of rock, jazz and blues for decades, now at the fossilized age of 55, that's saying something. For some reason, when I started listening to rock in my mid-teens, and started playing guitar, I was always open minded, but loved it heavy, and still do, provided it's done well. Black Sabbath of course are the kings of all things doom, dark and despair. They simply cannot be underestimated in the contributions they made, especially Tony Iommi, who rightfully should be considered the true eternal Dark Lord of heavy riffs. Ozzy too before becoming a caricature of himself made Sabbath even more dangerous with his voice that sounded as terrified, psychotic and alienated as the lyrics were.
So after thousands of mutations and imitations, doom has taken us down lower and slower over time. In the hands of Cathedral, the best doom band after Sabbath themselves, it's awesome. In the hands of Sunn O)))) it's doom that is mixed with the spirit of free form jazz experimentation and sound experimenters like Can and others who dare to step outside convention and create music of indescribable mystery, power and despair.
"Monoliths & Dimensions" takes the listener by the hand and transports him or her into darkness that hypnotizes and holds hostage as the ultra low tuned guitars this time around are mixed in with a choir, horns, three double bass players and a vibe that convinces me SunnO))) come from another space and dimension, to make the album title more relevant.
If electric guitars and modern music equipment had existed then, this album would have been a perfect soundtrack to the Dark Ages. In a Europe with foreboding castles, dark and sinister, diseases like the plaque and smallpox always a threat, little if any education, and mythological tales full of terror and superstition, including Christianity and Pagan folklore, these incredible drones would have been perfect. Imagine this feedback with a choir that creates a vibe only a trip to Transylvania could compare and you get the idea.
While J.S. Bach and minstrels were just around the corner, forced to play music that was approved by the Catholic church, this music would have embodied all that is truly sinister and still sounds so today. It's great. SunnO))) are masters of sound portraits and unaccessible to anybody who doesn't have the desire to embrace the unconventional.
Not as dirty sounding as the "Black One" CD, "Monoliths & Dimensions" stretches out just a little bit and makes a trip to the abyss that much more interesting. Take the descent if you dare.
on November 30, 2014
Monoliths & Dimensions might be the most aptly named album in my discography. Hypnotically slow chord progressions and huge sounds create a compelling landscape. The album opens with "Aghartha," the longest and, arguably, strongest of the four tracks. Featuring Attila Csihar on vocals, "Aghartha" is 17+ minutes of harrowing, dream-inducing noise. Csihar's vocals - simultaneously operatic and guttural - are perfect for a song that's both over-the-top theatrical and deathly serious. It's one of the best songs Sunn 0))) has put out to date. It thrilled me from the first listen and has held my attention ever since. The next two songs, "Big Church" and "Hunting & Gathering," bring more gloomy droning and nightmare fuel. Finally, there's "Alice" - a song that catches you totally by surprise after the heaviness of the previous three movements. Alice is stately and flat-out delicate; it's an unexpectedly soothing come-down from all the chilling noise. As always, Sunn 0))) demands patience and receptiveness on the listener's part. If you'll oblige, you'll receive a listening experience that challenges, captivates, and frightens.
on December 10, 2009
This is definitely one of the best albums of this year. I would also like to say one of the most engrossing "metal" albums I have ever heard. It is so engrossing because it owes more to the classical compositions of the fifteenth century chamber music and Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders than an early Earth record. I would say that anyone who has not liked Sunn O)) before should definitely check this one out. I was never a fan before (and I still don't like their other records even if I respect where they were coming from) and I am completely in love with what they have done this time. I really hope they expand on what they did here. The highlight of the album for is definitely "Alice".
on May 12, 2014
Let me start by saying that I am very open-minded musically speaking. I enjoy a lot of experimental music that most people would probably not care for.
Having said that..... This album is a BEAST (I know.. I sort of already said that). But, I can't emphasize that enough. It is truly a MONSTER. The sonic landscape painted is heavy and deeply dark. This album pours so thickly through your speakers that it can be felt and almost tasted. Come on and take a walk through an atmosphere that is deeply, deeply dark but not bereft of light.
on August 12, 2011
...and boy, does it deliver. Sunn O))) (merely pronounced 'Sun'), as many know, are an experimental drone doom metal band that have been getting lots of well deserved attention lately.
Sunn O))) was formed as a tribute to the band Earth by Stephen O Malley (guitars)and Greg Anderson (bass). The band has never had an official vocalist, though on this album the vocalist is Attila Csihar (awesome name) of Mayhem, who sings on three out of four of the tracks.
As most listeners of this band know, these guys need to be approached with caution. Sunn O))) are either a love it or hate it band, with most listeners of this band leaning towards the 'hate it' side, passing it off as mindless reverb noise drivel.
But it's not. Sunn O))) is not music - it's sound, pure raw, unstoppable sound. It may be music technically, but it is not music in the sense - that is exactly the point the band is trying to get across. People have an awful habit of thinking Sunn O))'s music is meant to entertain them.
However, this would be the essential Sunn O))) album to introduce people to the band with. It is without a doubt Sunn O)))'s most varied album to date, and most new listeners probably wouldn't pass it off as "just noise" like their other albums.
Their is only 4 tracks on the album, but the whole thing still manages to surpass 50 minutes in length. This is a good thing for me, as I'm a sucker for long songs.
Track 1: Aghartha (17:35)
The album kicks off with the 17 minute behemoth, "Aghartha". It begins with a LOUD riff which goes on for about 10 seconds before we get some sliding riffs which are just as slow. This hypnosis goes on for 5 minutes when Attila's vocals finally come in, who is reciting something about the creation of a second Earth. The riffs get progressively louder as the song goes on, specifically made clear around the 9 minute mark with distorted chords while a Xasthur like instrument plays in the background. There are a variety of odd sounds around 11 minutes in, with what sounds like wood cracking and someone using a typewriter, all the while the droning riffs refuse to end in the background. It calms down at around 13 minutes with more sounds under creepy chanting and Attila's voice. This continues on throughout the rest of the song until their is nothing but Attila's voice and the sound of wind, and everything fades to black. This song and the following are the more drone oriented songs on the album. It's probably the weakest track on the album, but it's still great nonetheless. SONG RATING: 7/10
Track 2: Big Church [megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért] (9:43)
The drone continues on this mighty track. It kicks off with an angelic but unsettling choir, preparing the listener for the heavy drone riffs half a minute in. The riffs are more varied and sinister than on "Aghartha", though not by much. We get more choirs under the heavy riffs and vocals as the song continues. Just when things feel like they're getting too intense to bear, the song gives the listener a breath of fresh air at 2:42 with the ringing of a church bell, and nothing more. It's calming, but unsettling, but you know the song isn't done with it's assualt. Before long, your theories are proven true, and the riffs come back for a second attack, and they're even more hungry for your blood than they were before. The vocals begin to get really unsettling around 5 minutes in, with what sounds like a sorcerer reciting a spell while the angelic choir plays. It continues it's chilling assault for minutes on end until finally, it's over. SONG RATING: 8/10
Track 3: Hunting and Gathering (Cynodia) (10:02)
This is definetely the highlight of the album, and one of the most listenable Sunn O))) songs the band has produced. It begins with an EXTREMELY distorted, surpisingly catchy riff before the distortion ends and the catchy riff becomes more audible, and you soon learn it is the main riff, a good feature given how awesome it is. Also, the riff sounds ALOT like "Boris" by The Melvins, which probably isn't a coincidence as Sunn O))) have been heavily influenced by the band. There's a weird string instrument at about 50 seconds in - I don't even know what it is, but it definetly adds to the atmosphere of the song. Attila's vocals are simply stunning in this number - I don't even know what he's saying, but he sounds possessed. At 2:30 there is a choir like in "Big Church". Their is many feedback-y sounds before everything ends, while the outro features a screeching feedback riff. SONG RATING: 9/10
Track 4: Alice (16:21)
After the storm of nightmarish heaviness that was the first three tracks, you expect the final one to be just the same. However, the listener is treated to a "ballad" - something Sunn O))) has never done in their entire career before this track. It begins with ambient sounds which go on for three minutes while an occasional acoustic, Tool-like riff strums in the background, followed by the ringing of some church bells. At about 5:50 there is a very majestic ambient sound, followed by heavy riffs which are still outshined by the acoustics. At about 12 minutes there is even a jazz influenced part, which takes up as the outro. It's a very pretty track, something not expected from Sunn O))). If Sunn O))) were to end their career after this album (which would be tragic), this is song would be the perfect way to go out. SONG RATING: 8/10
So that's it. This album is truly an experience, and I reccommend it to anyone who likes scary, dark music, limited percussion, and heavy as shrapnel guitars. This band gets a lot of undeserved but well backed up hate, but I am not one of the haters. If you like this type of music, listen and be blown away.
on June 16, 2016
More and more it seems possible to overgrow the sometimes deep valley between the classical role of the distorted guitar (as a concept of screaming attention) and the intelligence and fine subtleties involved in Art in general based on a deeper understanding of underlying interesting ideas. Sunn 0))) (Stephen O'Malley & Greg Anderson) has taken a deep breath and reinvented the lowdrone guitar once so wonderfully introduced by Tony Iommi. I still love that sound. But who could have thought that thunderous amps could be so meditative in relation with soundwaves that actually cut through your flesh and bone... And then the guest musicians so tasteful weaved into the music: what to think of Cuong Vu (trumpetplayer who played with Pat Metheny), choirs, spoken words and synths. The new avant-garde. Brilliant. Vital.
on May 27, 2009
This CD blew me away. I have yet to listen to it outside of headphones; I can only imagine how immersive an experience it is on big speakers at high volumes. 'Agharta' is a brilliantly evocative piece with Atila stealing the show with incredibly creepy intonations (he sings on 3 of the 4 tracks and is brilliant throughout). The final track, 'Alice' is a thing of pure beauty. Kudos to the all the fine musicians who have created one of the best Cds of the year!