Posts Tagged ‘Sunn O)))’

2nd September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

UK duo Thraa consists of Sally Mason and Andi Jackson, whose bio states that ‘Working without the constrictions of a traditionally structured song, this duo improvise around meditative drones, combining Sunn 0))) influenced guitars with soaring vocals. Making single take recordings, they capture an organic sense of sound that has cavernous textures with minimalism at heart.’

In some respects, this debut EP brings us full-circle in terms of drone evolution, and it’s fitting in the most appropriate, and planetary sense. The most successful and celebrated purveyors of drone, Sunn O))) famously took their moniker as a reference to drone/ doom progenitors Earth, who will, in certain circles, be forever remembered for the tectonic grind of their epic second album, Earth 2, from 1993, which contains just three tracks spanning some seventy-three minutes, with nothing but guitar and bass feedback stretching out, crunching along at a glacial pace and carrying the weight of entire continents. It’s hard to believe that this release will ever be surpassed for all that it is, with two of the three tracks stretching out around the half-hour mark with no shape or form, only an endless, grating, grumbling grind. Into Earth connotes a return to base material, a slow collapse, even a decay into compost form, but also hints at a sonic slide toward this territory carved out by the original and definitive drone act some twenty-nine years ago.

Thraa intimidated at the shape of things to come in June with the release of ‘Move Among Them’, which is the first of the EP’s four tracks. It’s swampy, sparse, beginning with an awkward, gurgling, wheezing, a kind of tentative snuffling grunt in the bass region before soaring, sculpted feedback howls and churns metallic—tinged clouds of scraping ambience. It probably sounds like a contradiction on paper, but hear me out: the screeding layers blur into a whirl without definition and tumble into a vortex of abstraction, and in doing so, create the sound closest to that early Earth whorling wall I’ve heard from any other band.

The title track lacks even more overt form, spurs of guitar feedback screeching as it breaks loose from the dense, rippling wall of undifferentiated noise. There are strong elements of Metal Machine Music here, but it’s around the midpoint that a slow, rhythmic piano emerges, along with a haunting understated vocal from Sally that’s half-buried beneath the noise of explosions and / or tidal waves. It’s both dolorous and ethereal, and BIG | BRAVE comparisons aren’t out of place here, either.

Everything coalesces after the subdued scrape and low-end rumblings of ‘Elgon’ on the seventeen-minute finale ‘Over Warm Stones’. Nothing different happens as such: there is only more, in terms of duration, and in terms of atmosphere. The snaking, rattling notes that swell and shimmer provide a sparse, textured backdrop to a quivering, evocative vocal performance.

Into Earth may not offer anything new, per se, but does provide a strong contribution to the canon of emotive, evocative ambient drone / doom which features vocal, which in this instance are essential to the experience, and it’s an experience which is compelling, immersive, heavy as hell and at the same time heavenly, before it collapses into a landslide of feedback that stretches out to the horizon.

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Southern Lord continues the label’s prolific output with the release of a new album: Greg Anderson’s debut full-length as The Lord, Forest Nocturne, which we recently reviewed here at Aural Aggro.

Additionally, The Lord has unveiled the Forest Nocturne demo recordings, originally only available on the Daymare Records Japanese CD edition, now available via Bandcamp.

You can get your lugs round the demos here:

Forest Nocturne sees Anderson (guitarist of SUNN O))), Goatsnake & Southern Lord curator) taking cues from legendary film composers: John Carpenter and Bernard Hermann, in order to create cinematic landscapes which are heavy with tension, and offset by the injection of lethal doses of early 90s Scandinavian Death Metal – with Attila Csihar (of notorious Norwegian black metal band Mayhem & frequent SUNN O))) collaborator) lending his putrid vocals to final track "Triumph of the Oak."

For Forest Nocturne, Anderson worked with renowned producer Brad Wood. Dan Seagrave’s epic and fantastical style is instantly recognisable on the album’s startling artwork, something which seems to depict an ancient and unknowable force in the woodlands. Forest Nocturne is described by Anderson as “music of the night,” but inspired by imagery conjured on daytime hikes, and majestic, beautiful trees, which he sees as survivors – perhaps the last known connection that we have to an ancient world, and acting as a connector between past, present and future of the human race and of our time on this planet.

Greg Anderson began making music in the mid-eighties with hardcore bands False Liberty and Brotherhood before refining his musicality during the nineties with the post-hardcore collective Engine Kid. From that point on, the musical direction started shifting, channelling his love of tone, riffs and repetitive sound, vital elements that feed into the meditative cosmos of SUNN O))), and the ‘low and slow’ sounds of Goatsnake, both of whom find different ways to move beyond confines and tropes of their respective sound worlds.

In August and September 2021 respectively, Greg Anderson released two singles under the name The Lord; "Needle Cast" with Robin Wattie (the unmistakably emotive vocalist of BIG|BRAVE) and "We Who Walk In Light" with William Duvall (of Seattle rock legends Alice In Chains and hardcore-punk group Neon Christ). Unintentionally moving in a different direction from those bands within which he found his feet, Anderson was able to take on the mantle of The Lord in a new, pictorial approach to heavy music. Through this process, he found himself moved to collaborate with vocalists he admires.

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Southern Lord – 23rd April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Covering multiple works in a single review feels like a major short-changing exercise, and I feel I should apologise to the artists involved in advance. It kind of depersonalises and maybe even cheapens the coverage, and I remember how I felt when the book version of my PhD thesis finally received a review, only to find that it was in an article alongside three other books. It may have been a paragraph of praise, but nevertheless, it was a solitary paragraph in a long article. Nine years of work, 90,000 words and 300 printed pages given a one-paragraph thumbs up… meh. But still, better than a thumbs-down or no paragraph.

A decade on, it’s still not settled with me, and I always try to do better. But sometimes, bundling makes sense and feels justified and this is one of those times.

Having spent many a virtual column inch in recent years bemoaning how Record Store day has made a deep descent from being an event that served to raise awareness of independent record shops to another cash-in for major labels cranking out shitty reissues on limited colour vinyl to wring yet more funds from completists while at the same time driving some of the most shameful scalping activity anywhere on line, it’s a relief to find something positive about RSD 2022.

That something comes of course from an independent label in the form of Southern Lord, who, as a sidenote, had commendably stuck to producing outstanding vinyl releases regardless of trends, fashions, popularity, or Record Store Day, and, admirably have continued to release whatever the hell they please, with a catalogue that’s an equal balance of cult hardcore punk re-releases and cutting-edge works of crushing weight that perpetually push the parameters of metal, with recent releases from Neon Christ and Big | Brave highlighting the polarities of the label’s interests.

This pair of RSD releases exemplify this span to perfection, and while admittedly one is a reissue, the other very much is not – and as such, they represent the label’s standard release scheduling. As the press releases outline, ‘The Catatonics were one of NYC and Syracuse’s pioneering hardcore punk bands…While the band’s seminal Hunted Down EP has remained one of the most highly sought-after releases of the genre, the heightening collector’s price made this 7” inaccessible to most people. Southern Lord has now elected to re-release this EP as a 12”, with bonus tracks.” And, meanwhile, Forest Nocturne is ‘the first full length solo venture of Greg Anderson, under the moniker of The Lord. Inspired by the great horror film composers of the 70s and 80s, Anderson turns his back on the riff worship of Goatsnake or SUNN O))) and instead creates a truly unsettling atmosphere heavy with tension, offset by 90s Scandinavian death metal’.

The Catatonics release certainly gives value for money: the original 1984 7” released on Anorexic Nympho Records featured five tracks: this reissue features a whopping eighteen. Following the bonus intro cut if ‘Descending in E’, the original EP accounts for tracks two to six, while the rest is an almost exhaustive gathering of compilation tracks, early demos and live recordings, all remastered from original tapes. Only two of the eighteen songs run beyond three minutes, with most clocking in under two, and this is rough and ready, ball-busting full-throttle, relentless fury, nonstop-pounding hardcore at its rawest and most furious, and the live cuts are particularly raw and brutal, making this a unique and comprehensive document of another underground band’s short but high-impact career.

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The Lord’s debut is a very different proposition: it’s clearly contemporary for a start, although it’s steeped in vintage metal stylings, and driven by an understated and simple but gut-churning bass that digs tunnels beneath your ordinary lives. Forest Nocturne is an album that twists and turns, and more significantly, gnaws like rodents, and like woodworm, at the smooth, flat planes of sonic normal. I say ‘normal’, as if that’s a thing – but The Lord conjure vast aural expanses, broad vistas that invite the listener to bask in the rich density, before tearing it to pieces.

A slow, swelling church organ droned doomily on ‘Church of Hermann’, a piece which is truly awe-inspiring. This is an instrumental album that definitely marks a departure for Anderson and feels more like early Earth than Sunn O))). Then again, it’s doesn’t really sound or feel like either.

Thick swells of strings that build into brooding, megalithic waves, define the power of this instrumental work. ‘Forest Wake’ starts with the wail of a siren, and brings bulldozing bass and power chords wrapped in gut-punching clouds of distortion. Those clouds dissipate for a time, and the atmosphere looms large and heavy as things unfurl, but take a moment to breathe and there’s nothing to see here other than smoke and that absence… It grinds, and it absolutely fucking kills, going full Sunn O))) drone doom on ‘Old Growth’. Forest Nocturne is hard and harrowing, immense, epic, beautiful, and yet at the same time devastating. The last track, ‘Triumph of the Oak’ is a new shade of heavy, an angering mess of thrashing chords that crashes down so, so hard.

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Finally, thanks to Southern Lord, there are releases that are actually worth getting up and queuing for at the weekend.

Southern Lord – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been a little slow getting around to this one, but since the band’s taken more than twenty-five years to do so, I don’t feel quite so bad.

Way, way back, before Sunn O))), before Goatsnake, before Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine (another band referencing Dylan Carlson’s mighty drone-progenitors Earth), before the advent of the Southern Lord label, Greg Anderson made noise with early 90s Seattle-based post-hardcore act Engine Kid, who signed off in 1995 with the Troubleman Unlimited EP, after undergoing countless lineup changes and recording their album Bear Catching Fish album with Steve Albini. Their short but prolific career was recently re-released as a six-album box set.

But I guess sometimes there are itches you just have to scratch, and this is clearly one such instance, with the band reconvening to revisit and rework old songs they never recorded or releases.

A lot has changed in a quarter of a century, and the title is a fair indicator. This isn’t a criticism, and as the accompanying text explains, the ‘cover art is a symbolic metaphor about living one’s best life, and with extravagant swagger. The songs themselves continue the band’s “take on the world” attitude with restless, wild energy’. This is a short blast of a release that’s about empowerment, not dissing the disabled, and it’s a reminder of simpler times, perhaps, when ‘special’ was ok. But ultimately, we’re all special, right?

The songs contained herein – several of which have already been shared here on Aural Aggravation – are blistering blasts of guitar-driven noise: fifty-nine second opener ‘Burban on Blades’ a piledriving blast of warped riffage that’s more akin to Melvins than anything else, and paves the way for the thunderous title track. The drums pound as devastating detonations, while the bass blasts at your lungs and the guitars grind with a gut-churning afterburn. It’s brutal and then some, and ‘The Abattoir’, a mere minute and fifteen in duration, is savage. One thing is clear, and that’s during their absence, they’ve not mellowed, and that they’ve not polished or prettied these songs up with a more technical performance or cleaner production is very much a good thing.

‘Patty : Tania’ (not on the flexidisc edition) marks a massive shift to round off the EP: it sounds like another band entirely, with chiming guitars weaving a dark, late-night, backstreet atmosphere that has somewhat gothic overtones, and these provide the backdrop to a lengthy sampled spoken word intro before, finally, at just shy of three and a half minutes in, the levee breaks and the guitars crash in. That kind of dynamic never gets tired, and here it shows that Engine Kid are more complex, more nuanced, and more versatile, than may initially appear.

This is a storming EP in its own right, and will likely not only elate existing fans, but introduce the band to a whole new set of listeners.

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Southern Lord – 26th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Long after the heyday of the legendary Peel Sessions, BBC sessions remain something to be revered and something special. Even back in the 80s and 90s, when Joh Peel’s show was the place to gain exposure as an underground band, and a Peel session the pinnacle of prestige for any act outside the mainstream, the likes of David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Janice Long were also notable DJs who invited bands to record live / studio sessions, and while R1 has since become the domain if wall-to-wall major label slop without a single window for anything remotely alternative (that died with Zane Lowe’s departure in 2015, and while his sycophantic arselicking was nauseating, he did at least provide a platform in an otherwise mainstream space), 6Music, recently salvaged from decommission continues to uphold the tradition, thanks to Mark Riley (formerly of all-time Peel faves The Fall) and Mary Anne Hobbs. Hobbs(who quit R1 in 2010 to mentor students at The University of Sheffield and stepped into 6Music a couple of years later) in many ways represents the last bastion of the old-school, in a good way: the veteran DJ is more attuned to less obvious music than many DJs a fair bit younger, as her offering a slot to Sunn O))) indicates.

The beauty of BBC sessions is that they offer acts studio time to use as they please. Many crank out versions of tracks off their latest album, but others explore new territory, either with works in progress, random covers, or something else entirely. Sunn O))) elected to record a whole new album. And so it is that the follow up to Pyroclasts is an extension of the work from that previous album (plus one from its predecessor, Life Metal (2019)) – of which Pyroclasts was in turn an extension of sorts, having been recorded during the same sessions. They certainly know how to stretch a concept: the thing with Sunn O)) is that for all of their impenetrable wall of seriousness, which corresponds with their impenetrable wall of sound, there is a sense of wryness, a sense that they’re more than self-aware of their mythmaking and stylisation, and that delivering it all with not even straight faces, but faces obscured by cowls, isn’t entirely serous. By this, I mean high art and humour aren’t mutually exclusive. Sunn O))) make serious music in a serious fashion, and are even serious about it, but maintaining character throughout is integral tom the wheeze. And so in keeping with maintaining both the style and the form, they grind out longform pieces that drone interminably and gnaw away at the intestines in an uneasy tonal probing.

Having toured with the band as a support on the UK leg of their tour, Anna Von Hausswolf joined the band in the legendary Maida Vale studio and lent vocals, adding an ethereal quality to the low-end drone that continues for all eternity.

Immediately, we’re dragged into Sunn O)) time. Most radio sessions comprise three or four songs, with a duration of maybe fifteen minutes or so in total. Because most radio shows last maybe three hours, and a feature slot of fifteen to twenty minutes is proportionate. But with Sunn O))), most tracks are half a show in duration, and the first track on here, ‘Pyroclasts F’, an excerpt of which was revealed in November, is comparatively gentle, drifting semi-ambient work, combining heavy guitar drone and feedback, and of course it’s never-ending. Well, fifteen minutes in duration, to be more precise, as its counterpart Pyroclasts C#.

It’s not until ‘Troubled Air’ starts and that the truly intense, gut-shredding sensation hits. It’s five ambient minutes until the monstrous power chords strike the knell of dark doom, and we’re in classic Sunn O))) territory. Growling for an uncomfortable eleven minutes on Life Metal, this performance extends the piece for over half an hour, with downturned chords struck at An impossibly slow rate. The earth turns between chords, the sustain extending light years. The ominous organ notes trill and quaver like mist creeping in a horror movie, while the doomy chords torture the bowels and lower intestine and blossom into blooming cathedrals of chthonic darkness. It’s a sonic black hole from which there is no escape, and it grinds and billows and the listener is slowly sucked under by the relentless swirling currents.

Metta, Benevolence captures Sunn O))) at their minimal best, conjuring enormous, sweeping soundscapes of the densest, darkest, most relentlessly dark drone.

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In late October 2019, following a successful UK tour ending in a sold-out concert at the mythical Roundhouse in London, SUNN O))) entered studio 4 of the BBC Maida Vale on invitation to record a live session for Mary Anne Hobbs to be broadcast on Samhain via her excellent radio show on BBC6. To enter the legendary John Peel studios was to enter a temple of music and experimentation, liberty in ideas and sound.

The brilliant Anna Von Hausswolff and her band had accompanied SUNN O))) on the UK tour, and Anna joined SUNN O))) in the BBC studio on synths and with her tremendous voice on the Pyroclasts pieces.  Today, SUNN O))) premieres an excerpt from the remarkable “Pyroclasts F” track ahead of the November 26th CD/Digital release date.

Check the visuals that accompany the pre-release excerpt here:

 

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Artist photo by: Ronald K. Dick.

Composer and curator Greg Anderson (Southern Lord Recordings; Sunn O))), Engine Kid, Goatsnake & more) has unveiled a new song as a part of his forthcoming explorative compositions and collaborations as THE LORD available on Bandcamp.

The first track to surface is the thunderous song “Needle Cast,” which features BIG|BRAVE guitarist/vocalist Robin Wattie.  Wattie’s striking, shimmering vocals pair perfectly with Anderson’s multi-faceted instrumental approach.  Anderson comments: “I’m extremely honoured to have been able to collaborate with Robin Wattie on this track.  I’m a massive fan of BIG|BRAVE especially Robin’s emotive vocals and infectious melodies.  Immediately after composing this track I was envisioning her dynamic vocals within the piece.  The performance she recorded went beyond what I had imagined. Robin also created the amazing artwork that accompanies the music."  All proceeds from “Needle Cast” will go directly to The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Listen to ‘Needle Cast’ here:

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"Needle Cast" cover art by Robin Wattie

Engine Kid, the 90s post hardcore collective featuring Greg Anderson (Southern Lord label owner, also in Sunn O))), Goatsnake & Thorr’s Hammer) share the previously unreleased track "Angel Dust" appearing on their special Record Store Day 6 x LP boxed set release Everything Left Inside

About this track Greg Anderson comments, "during the process of unearthing Angel Wings master tapes a previously unreleased/unheard track from the session was discovered.  Our recollections of this song were extremely foggy and the reason it was left off the full-length album remains a mystery! Vitality was injected into the track by wizard producer Brad Wood."

The boxed set includes other unreleased/unheard recordings as well as hard to find/sought after albums including the “Novocaine/Astronaut” 12”, Bear Catching Fish 2xLP, Angel Wings 2xLP and Split w/ Iceburn / Everything Left Inside 12” – all remastered and with an extensive 12-page booklet.  A black vinyl version of the box is set for RSD on June 12th (not available outside the US) with additional versions of the record for the rest of the world to arrive at a later date TBC. Digital for the time being available via bandcamp:

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Editions Mego – EMEGO298 – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As the title perhaps suggests, Cylene Suisse Redux is a document of the tour of Switzerland undertaken by François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley in December 2019, following the release of their first album, Cylene. That said, it’s no straight live recording, as the two longform tracks – naturally corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette each – were edited and manipulated respectively by Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, ‘giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach’.

The two musicians chose to entrust sound material recorded on the tour to the expert ears of two friends and great musicians Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach.

For Ryoji Ikeda, it was a question of finding a moment, circumscribing a fragment of time through his listening, with minimal intervention. For Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, the live recordings became material to be deconstructed and reassembled, to tell, according to his musical sensibility, a path of metamorphosis for Bonnet and O’Malley’s music.

According to the press release, ‘Cylene Suisse Redux is a prismatic substrate of a series of concerts surrounded by friendship, lakes, mountains, and by nightfall’. But how does that translate as a listening experience?

O’Rourke conjures an ominous sci-fi soundscape, abrim with other-worldly odyssey, as spooky-sounding mid—range drones hover and twist in a haze of reverb. This is the sinister soundtrack to a sinister movie set in a barren wasteland in an alien climate, as clouds of red dust drift through the thin, inhospitable atmosphere. Something is awry: danger is omnipresent, and anything could happen at any moment. Sonorous tones echo out into the emptiness, accentuating the bleakness of the sonic expanse in which we find ourselves. There is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing solid or familiar, only an ever-shifting drift of layer upon layer of sound without and signposts or markers, nothing to orientate oneself with. You feel isolated, alone, exposed, vulnerable, as you advance, with trepidation, onwards through this nerve-jangling eighteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda’s approach is quite different, and so is the end result, which starts out like a distant freight trail screeching to a halt with the scrape of metal upon metal, and it continues far off in the background as insistent drones, broad and bulbous, hover and turn, twist and whine, evolving over time. This is more what you might consider ‘typical’ ambient drone, favouring neither lightness nor darkness, and with neither a leaning toward bass not treble, and therefore not challenging and sensory aspect too hard. It’s still ominous in places, but not overtly unsettling or uncomfortable. Because there’s some sense of linear trajectory, it growls louder and darker as it progresses, swelling in volume and intensity, while the soft-edged drones develop sharper edges and become increasingly shrill, howling dissonance and pain before gradually tapering down, albeit with some afterburn.

You’re left wandering, aimless, vacant, in no-man’s land, wondering precisely how you should feel and how you should react to what you’ve just heard – and that’s as it should be. François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley create music without boundaries or definition, and that indistiction is further accentuated by O’Rourke and Ikeda. It’s for the listener to do the work, to explore and to find the points of resonance. There is much space to explore. Go forth.

Ideologic Organ – SOMA034

Digital release date: July 3/10 / Physical release date: mid August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ideologic Organ label owner Stephen O’Malley effuses over Ai Aso’s ‘immaculately crafted form of minimalist pop music skirts the edges of tensity with the manner and with the skill of a tight rope walker, calmly balancing repeatedly at every step, with a combination of surety and the risk of a slip, a fall, and an unknown uncoiling of events’.

Pop may not be a genre commonly associated with he label or the Sunn O))) founder, but Ideologic Organ do have a track record for venturing beyond the expected and showcasing some unusual talents, and Ai Aso is definitely one of those, as the nine tracks on The Faintest Hint demonstrate. Legendary Japanese rock band Boris accompany Aso on two of the pieces, but if you’re expecting powerchords, keep moving on.

Picked acoustic guitar alone accompanies Aso’s voice for most of the first song, ‘Itsumo’, and indeed, much of the album, and even with the multi-tracked vocal, it’s a simple, spartan, and intimate recording. The guitar and voice are in the room with you. And they touch you accordingly.

‘Scene’ is more post-rock, a slow, quivering bass chord echoes out against chiming guitar notes and Ai’s soaring ethereal voice calls to mind Cranes at their most delicately haunting, but also at times is simply a shy humming that’s endearing in its understatement and apparent reticence.

Sometimes, quietness and sparseness simply seem to equate to sadness, and the low, mumbling low-note repetitions of ‘Gone’, despite the words being unintelligible, emanate an aching sadness, while in contrast, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ carries something of a playfulness, not to mention a certain Young marble Giants lo-fi bedroom indie vibe. The straining electric guitar discordance that disrupts the singsong easiness of the song toward the end is a nice touch. She trills, swoops and croons on ‘Floating Rhythms’ in a way that sounds like she’s singing to herself – and this intimacy provides a large part of the appeal.

If there’s anything about The Faintest Hint that may suggest ‘amateurish’ to some, that’s certainly not the reaction from my ears: Aso’s minimal approach to songwriting and performance gives a rare immediacy, and it’ss unhampered by conspicuous production. It’s touching, intimate, and special.

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