Reviews Sunn 0))) Dømkirke

Sunn 0)))


Dømkirke is a live Sunn 0))) album recorded at Bergen Cathedral of Bergen, Norway as part of the Borealis Festival 2007. The twelfth-century cathedral was a perfect setting for the March 2007 performance that also featured Attlia Csihar on vocals, Steve Moore on pipe organ, and Lasse Marhaug on electronics. The double album was a vinyl-only release with absolutely stunning packaging.

The idea behind the performance was to bridge a gap between Sunn 0)))’s guitar drone and the darkest chants of the late Middle Ages. I have thought for a long time that these two musical approaches are compatible... drone doom, dark ambient, and black metal all have an inherent connection to this period in history (The Middle Ages, particularly The Black Plague) by virtue of their bleak hopelessness, references to a time when God and Satan were very real forces in daily life, and seemingly archaic atmospheres. So Gregorian (and other styles of) chant, as well as pipe organ, make an excellent harmonic backdrop to more modern forms of dark music, creating a beautifully grim amalgamation of musical styles and time periods, something truly timeless.

So as soon as I read about the release of Dømkirke, I had to own it to see if it lived up to my lofty expectations. Here, I thought, is something that not only fulfills my musical wet dreams but also could take Sunn 0))) to the next level: using their guitars not to run the show, but alongside organ and chant to create something yet even greater than the sum of its parts. Not to mention the incredible acoustics one can only find in a medieval-period church.

The verdict? I think Sunn 0))) could have taken this concept to even greater levels of musical crossbreeding across centuries, but I am still extremely happy with the results. This is a standout album in Sunn 0)))’s catalog and features significant performances by the guest musicians. This is something musicians in the drone genre should take notice of, because this is how it ought to be done. A modern musical piece can of course stand up on its own terms, but when it references and reinterprets something from the past in addition to breaking new ground, that is about the most exciting thing one can do as a musician. And we’re not just talking about going back a couple of decades... we’re talking about The Middle Ages, only the most brutal and grim period of human history and that is a perfect fit with Sunn 0)))’s musical aims. You can’t make this kind of shit up.

Side A, “Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself In Clouds?” develops the harmonic themes for the first half of the album with a repeated progression of droning chords on the pipe organ accompanied by surprisingly “tasteful” vocals by Attila (by that I mean in tune) that range from somber chant to an almost operatic, booming voice by the end. Here is one thing I feel could be taken a step further. I hope I live to see a day when a full Gregorian choir chants alongside crushing guitar tones, but the lone wail of Attila on Dømkirke works beautifully here in its own right.

Side B, “Cannon,” continues the theme of Side A but is focused more on the guitars. Nothing you haven’t heard before, but Anderson and O’Malley are shifting chords faster than usual (to match the organ) and the acoustics of the cathedral give the guitars more depth. Not to mention when the guitars and organ are actually playing in unison on Side B, the sound is earth-shaking. I can only imagine how goosebump-inducing this performance was in person.

Sides C and D, “Cymatics” and “Masks The Aetmosphere,” have a decidedly more malevolent sound to them with the vocals shifting to a more torturous black metal cackling buried under sheets of feedback and distortion. There is still some enjoyable interplay between the organ and guitars on “Masks The Aetmosphere,” while it is mostly absent from “Cymatics.”

One last thing that occurred to me while listening to this album is that Sunn 0))) was allowed to perform in Bergen Cathedral, not far from where churches were going up in flames a little more than fifteen years ago thanks to a black metal scene that felt it had something to prove. Sunn 0))) isn’t a black metal band, obviously, but they have connections with that scene, particularly in that they perform with Attila Csihar (also of Mayhem). This signifies to me that perhaps times have changed and the hysteria that gripped Norway has subsided. The organizers of the festival, while certainly representing a more open-minded segment of Norwegian society, must know what Sunn 0))) knows... while the metal world may still have its share of wackos, most musicians involved in it are relatively reasonable people who happen to have a passion for the darker side of life. The world should take notice that the members of a metal band can perform in a church, regardless of their personal beliefs, without destroying it because they were there for the sake of their art, which they are as equally passionate about as musicians in any other genre.

9.5 / 10Tyler
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9.5 / 10

9.5 / 10

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