Sunn 0))) - Life Metal

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Sunn 0))) have been toying with the extremes of loudness and distortion for 20 years. Out of Seattle, the duo of Stephen O’Malley an Greg Anderson play slow, cavernous doom metal at fiercely slow paces. Their menacing drones linger in the listener’s psyche as they masterfully utilizing tension and release. Adventurous collaborators, Sunn has always been exploring ways to expand their singular sonic approach, whether it be incorporating the cold extremes of black metal mainstays (Xastur, Mayhem, Ulver) or tapping into the avant-garde freedom of the late Scott Walker.

Life Metal sees Sunn 0))) returning to their roots with a no-frills, crushing drone metal record. The most notable addition to Life Metal is the production assistance of Steve Albini. Working with titans such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Jesus Lizard, PJ Harvey, and many more, the legendary producer has more than proven his capability to craft jagged, blistering records with intricate detail and nuance. Without taking away Sunn’s ferocity, Albini gives this album a newfound clarity. The band simply sounds bigger than they ever have before.

“Between Sleipner’s Breaths” both begins and ends with the whining cry of a horse. The majestic gallop of a steer seems to be a odd image to conjure when absorbing Sunn 0)))’s methodical, earth-shattering sound. But even with the apocalyptic atmosphere the duo brings, there is a notable gracefulness to it. While each chord bleeds into the next, a processional melody screams over top. Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir haunts the opening track with her mystical, liturgical voice.

 Chimes and subtle organ finds its way on “Trouble Air.” What gives Sunn their unchallenged space as the leaders in this fringe subgenre of doom metal is their ability to insert miniscule details in the crevices of their songs without sacrificing their brutality. The low end on this track comes from the abyss, giving the track an almost unbearable murkiness.

 The devastating “Aurora” makes the best use of Sunn 0)))’s polished sound. Instead of cleaning up the mess, they amplify it. Feedback stabs at every transition, each note disintegrating into the next with an increased intensity. It’s maddening. Sunn might not play many notes, but they know how to use space better than anyone. While waiting for Sunn 0))) to crawl into a new chord, the listener is subject to layers of overtones and sparse detail. Not a moment is without treasures to be discovered with repeat listens.

 The mountainous “Novae” closes out Life Metal. Clocking in at 25 minutes, “Novae” is an endurance test. While those without the patience to sit through such a taxing Sunn 0))) tune, the subtle changes in pattern may not be of appeal. But for some, the journey this song takes is absolutely alluring. Towards the end, the towering guitars take a bit of a step back, giving way to bellowing cello from Guðnadóttir.

 Life Metal is a grand step for Sunn who continues to find new ways to captivate with their sinister take on metal. This is a mysterious, unsettling album with true bone-chilling capabilities. O’Malley and Anderson allow each note to pulsate through the chest of their listeners. While Life Metal definitely provides enough to satisfy the ear, this is truly music meant to be felt.

 

Grade: A-

Matt Marciniec