Posts Tagged ‘Tim Midyett’

Southern Lord – 26th April 2019

A new Sunn O))) album is still an event, even after all these years as the leading exponents of droning doom, a field now crowded with imitators and influences. The sense of ceremony is a major factor: Sunn O))) appreciate and command ceremony in every aspect of their exitance. As good as so many who have emerged to follow in their wake may be, there really is only one Sunn O))). The thing with Sunn O))) is that while they very much do mine deep into their self-made seem, each release offers something different, a variation on that consistent sameness.

And so it is on Life Metal that co-founders Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson set themselves a production-orientated goal for realising their immense sound, namely to have their playing captured by god himself, Steve Albini. The story goes that Steve took the call, and said ,“Sure, this will be fun. I have no idea what is going to happen.”

The resulting four tracks, which evolved through time in rehearsal, and with collaborative input from Anthony Pateras, Jóhann Jóhannsson collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir, guitarist / bassist Tim Midyett, and live mainstay T.O.S bringing Moog action, were laid at Albini’s legendary Electrical Audio studio, and the end product (at least on vinyl) is pure analogue, with an AAA rating.

And it certainly brings the band’s earthy qualities to the fore: the richness, the density of the speakers vibrating in their cabs as displaced air emerges as sound in its most overtly physical manifestation is all captured in a way that conveys the immersive, all-enveloping experience of being a room with the band. As is also the case with Swans and A Place to Bury Strangers, the intense volume isn’t a gimmick but a necessary part of the sound and the experience. Some frequencies simply don’t exist at lower volume, and tones resonate against one another in a certain and quite different way when everything is turned up to eleven and then maximum gain applied. And the effect is transcendental. And whereas its predecessor, Kannon was comparatively concise, with its three tracks clocking in around the half-hour mark, Life Metal goes all out on the expansive, the four pieces running for a fill seventy minutes.

It begins with a distant rumble, before, after just a matter of seconds, the first chord crashes in: thick, dense, so distorted and low-registering as so almost collapse under its own density. But from the slow-crawling swamp-heavy ooze emerges individual notes, the makings of a melodic lead guitar line, and from the darkness radiates a gleam of light. Feedback… soaring notes… grandeur on a galactic scale. And then… Guðnadóttir’s voice. Detached and somehow simultaneously clinical yet emotive, assured yet utterly lost, it possesses an other-worldliness as it drapes dimensions across a simmering drone forged from a lattice of layers reminiscent of sections of Earth on Earth 2.

‘Troubled Air’, which features Pateras’ pipe organ work heightens the impact of volume as well as the ceremonial, ritual undertones which run through every Sunn O))) composition. By turns beauteous and beastly, shifting between moments of monumental grace and churning discord.

The nineteen-minute ‘Aurora’ goes low and slow, a single chord hanging in the thick, muggy air for an eternity until it twists out of shape and becomes a whine of feedback. And then it goes lower and slower still. The suspense builds between each chord, which elongates out to a droning sustain, and when the next lands, it’s with the force of an imploding black hole. Because Sunn O))) don’t do things on a small scale or in light: instead, they amplify darkness until it goes beyond critical mass to become all-consuming.

It ends abruptly in a peak of feedback before a deluge of grinding guitar, overdriven and distorted to a point beyond devastation hits like a tsunami to open the twenty-five-minute closer, ‘Novae’. Again taking clear cues from Earth 2, it’s a heavy drone that occupies the full sonic spectrum as howling strains of feedback whine over bowel-rupturing lower frequencies. Nothing much happens: it doesn’t need to. This is about taking a concept and pushing it as far beyond its logical end as possible, something Sunn O))) have effectively made a career of. And it still works.

And if ever a single album encapsulated the fundamental concept of Sunn O))), Life Metal would be a strong contender.

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