Experimental drone alchemists Sunn O))) have defined two decades of extreme music with their slow, dark offerings. Starting in the early ‘00s, the duo comprised of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson proved to be the most talented disciple of Dylan Carlson’s early sonic investigations with Earth. In those early days the music of Sunn O))) was a cataclysmic experience, highlighted through the dense, unyielding structures of OO Void and Flight of the Behemoth. Gradually, the band would spread its wings and traverse other dimensions, with their White One and White Two records before unleashing the terrifying Black One. This was in many ways a transformative record for Sunn O))), as they took on more pronounced dark ambient tactics and black metal aesthetics, creating a work of avant-metal bliss.
And so the latter phase of Sunn O))) continued and expanded on the path forged by Black One. Monoliths & Dimensions that soon followed was the most perfect peak the band could achieve. Through their feedback craftsmanship and an extended set of guests, Sunn O))) brought forth not only their darkest moment, but also their most innovative release to date. What would then follow was an intriguing collaboration with the great, late Scott Walker in Soused and their latest record Kannon. Even though Kannon had its moments, it felt as if the band was at a static state, not moving their vision forward.
Still, the mighty duo returns now with Life Metal, which signals another change. While Sunn O))) has always worked with the great Randall Dunn on the production side, here they collaborate with the legendary Steve Albini. This approach has the magical effect of altering the coloring of the band’s sound. This change is funnily enough also highlighted in the record’s cover, easily the most colorful design the band has ever used. Even in the more relentless moments of this record, in “Aurora”, this essence is brought forth in a masterful manner. The towering manifestation of the guitars with their blunt progression, is projected through a much warmer tonality, that contradicts the brilliantly dark and detached aesthetics of Monoliths & Dimensions or Black One.
The guitars are raised to a cosmic level with this switch, being lift from the underworld and placed on the sky. It is fitting that this change is first introduced through “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths”, a song that highlights Sunn O)))’s black metal influence, but also aptly named after the mythological steer of Odin, capable of traveling between dimensions. And so in this journey on transformation Sunn O))) have the magnificent Hildur Gudnadottir to aid them, providing an astounding vocal delivery that completes this solitary scenery of sheer beauty. The path becomes more adventurous on “Troubled Air”, with the duo aided by the Anthony Pateras’ pipe organ dives into a moment of pure feedback bliss. The track evolves through constant design and improvisation, becoming one of the more playful moments Sunn O))) have ever produced.
It is the textural change that defines Life Metal, and that is highlighted best in album closer “Novae”. While the band still resorts to their familiar haze of riffs and feedback, building a towering presence through the glacial movements, the result is not so much oppressive as it is hallucinatory. This has brought forth a psychedelic element that always appeared to be below the surface for Sunn O))), and a more intricate and subtle sentiment especially when the cello is brought to the front. It is the best representation of the transformation of Sunn O))) from this elusive persona of a faceless mystic, to the astral projection of a wise shaman.
8.0 / 10
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