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Sunn 0))) - Black One

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Artist: Sunn 0)))

Album: Black One

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Oct. 15, 2005

Like some graven negative image of the mythological phoenix, doom-metal gods Sunn 0))) have risen again. On their sixth effort, Black One, core duo Stephen O’ Malley and Greg Anderson scale back the subsonic rumbles and brackish drones found on previous efforts in favor of more subtle textures. While the new record is hardly mellow, greater attention is paid to how their caustic frequencies fill the chasmal spaces. Handling vocal duties this time around are west coast grimsters Malefic (of Xasthur) and Wrest (of Leviathan), with the throat-rending lineup rounded out by howlers Oren Ambarchi and John Weise.

Avant-metal is seemingly everywhere these days; in addition to clogging Aquarius Records’ weekly new release lists, the genre recently scored major column space in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. While it might be a while before Arcade Fire fans don obsidian robes, the movement has allowed metal kids the rare opportunity to mingle with hipsters. The relationship may be symbiotic: mostly male heshers get to meet fresh indie chicks, while cool kids earn cred through association with real live dirtbags. It’s probably unfair to say that Sunn 0))) (and that's Sunn, not Sunn-O) is solely responsible for the trend, but they are masters of the milieu. Luckily, Black One contains enough bone-chilling sonic terror to deflect accusations of faddishness.

Opener “Sin Nanna” employs ruptured rumbles cast across a wide stereo field. Eerie percussion thrums in the distance like orc battle drums, while a thick drone cycles through several permutations as the song consumes itself.

“It Took the Night to Believe” may be as close to black metal as Sunn 0))) have ever gotten. Its devastating backing guitars sound like Burzum on cough syrup while stinging speed picking creates an illusory sense of motion. Grisly vocals complete the sinister picture without detracting from the music. By song’s end, however, all tone is annihilated by a haze of barbarous shrieks and tape echo.

The slugglishly ironhanded “Cry for the Weeper” finds the band mining similar territory as Japanese dronologists Boris, albeit at a quarter of the pace. Occasionally, shards of guitar rise above the hum, but the track largely consists of oppressive, waterlogged chords. At a certain point in the proceedings, the central riff from Slayer’s “Angel of Death” would be welcome. “Orthodox Caveman” continues the crusty vibrations with even more hellish antipathy.

“Bathory Erzébet” closes up shop with ominous bells and indistinguishable aural scrapings. The sheer repetition is so debilitating that when the thunderclaps burst nearly eight minutes in, it’s like being abruptly torn from a codeine coma.

Sunn 0))) deserve credit for keeping these slo-mo boulders tumbling without becoming archeology themselves. As the drone-metal field gets more crowded, it becomes increasingly difficult to sound signature. Capes and candles aside, O’Malley and Anderson have uncovered the philosopher’s stone of metal; an alhemical marriage of brain and brawn.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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