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Sunn 0))) - White1

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Artist: Sunn 0)))

Album: White1

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Jul. 22, 2003

Of Sub-Bass and Gloom Axe

White1 marks the fourth missive from the darkest regions of Sunn O)))’s distorted, drony netherworld. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s newest long player follows a year after the excellent 3: Flight of the Behemoth, a record that broadened their sonic palette with contributions from Japanese noise guru Merzbow. The duo’s basic attack has remained largely unchanged throughout the course of the four long-players – equal parts tribute to and expansion of the ideas set forth by Dylan Carlson’s Earth project, as well as forays into the types of pummeling sonic textures espoused by such experimental electronic labels like Mego (members of whom’s roster Sunn O))) has gigged with). While in less capable hands this steadfast dedication to one particular type of sound could easily lead to repetition and stagnation, lately Anderson and O’Malley have been using their basic ideas as a launching pad for more intriguing collaborations that deepen the strength and power of their own signature sound. White1 places an emphasis on vocals this time around, featuring contributions from Julian Cope and Runhild Gammelsaeter, with former Melvin (and current Throne) Joe Preston and Rex Ritter adding layers of subtle sonic texture.

While their recent tendency to include various guests indicates a strong desire to expand beyond their own reach, the addition of Julian Cope for the furious “My Wall” shows a duo intent on poking fun at themselves and the dire seriousness that permeates much of the darkest metal connections. Over a trademark low-end rupture, Cope baldly intones an almost epic poem dedicated to one Johnny Guitar, returning again and again to a choral exhortation to “Play your gloom axe Stephen O’Malley / Sub-bass clinging to the sides of the valley / Sub-bass ringing in each last ditch and comb / Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom.” While simply reading the lines aloud conveys an almost Spinal Tap-esque sense of metal satire, the backing track that Sunn O))) cook up makes one do an instant double take. Indeed, this would be high comedy were it not for the simple fact that Anderson and O’Malley ring forth with the same sense of epic grandeur that Cope hints at, piling layer upon layer of sheer sonic death against one another, achieving the sort of aural overload they’ve gain notoriety for.

“The Gates of Ballard” mines the same sort of aesthetic territory as “My Wall”, but with distinctly darker results. This track alternates between a morbid sounding traditional Nordic poem (sung wonderfully by Runhild Gammelsaeter) and a staggering drum machine track. The vocals here sound as though they were recorded in an isolated shack, adding a tense sense of claustrophobia to an omnipresent drone. The rhythm track (something which is rarely used in the Sunn O))) canon) continuously builds off the same fills, contrasting with the coursing dark riffage.

The album closes with the excellently titled “A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You”. This track relies less on the strength of its volume, but rather is the carefully plotted ambience of an undulating drone and some sparse guitar work. While it’s not the duo’s infamous metal-core, it’s still outstanding, using a more minimal approach to conjure the same effects – a dark sense of foreboding claustrophobia.

As mentioned earlier, the past year has seen Sunn O)))’s work transcend its metal audience to find welcoming ears among a much wider crowd of experimental music aficionados, and rightly so – these two are currently making some of the most exciting music in all of the rock lexicon. What had once started out as a tribute with sly humor (they initially professed that their desire was to make their audiences lose control of their bowels) has clearly developed into its own glorious entity. Equally at ease amid massive swaths of bass/guitar and left-field electronics, Sunn O))) have quickly become required listening for any devotee of experimental, heavy music.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Sunn 0)))

Flight Of The Behemoth


Thee Grimm Robe Demos

Black One

Monoliths and Dimensions

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

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