Sunn O))) is a band of contrasts. Their music resides in a strange hinterland between minimalism and maximalism, one where they can extract the most extreme, and overwhelming, noise from a single chord played out for what seems like an eternity. Similarly, the weighty experimentalism of their work sits alongside the preposterously liberal application of dry ice at their live shows, and their monkish attire, with a bizarre synergy.
If one ever needed proof of the old adage "less is more," they need look no further than Sunn O))). Over the course of 20 years, the founding duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have redefined musicality, crafting songs of immense feeling and magnitude out of comparatively few notes. In that way, Life Metal is no exception, and flaunts spirit that is fresh while also wonderfully familiar.
A particular strain of hope runs throughout the album, which intermingles with the otherwise intimidating magnitude of the band's tectonic sound ….
Life Metal, their eighth LP, and Steve Albini-produced follow-up to 2015's Kannon, consists of four tracks, totalling nearly seventy minutes of noise. While Life Metal fails to serve as much of a surprise, the power that encapsulates these tracks is sinister, and just sometimes, heavenly. Sunn O))) continue to delve into the darkest regions of the underworld, paralyzing their listeners with fear, discomfort, and even at times, rumination.
Sunn O))) are more than a band; they are a belief system which you either "get" or deride. Sound, for them and their purist audience, is a sacrosanct energy which they merely channel rather than create. The point of Sunn O))) is not what they play, but what happens to the sound in between strokes of their guitars. The power that the wandering, unabated and almost agentic noise possesses is more significant than that which is conjured by the instrumentation.
Sunn O))) albums have tended to be summits where the luminaries of noise and volume gather for electric communion. Almost as soon as the duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley moved beyond the simple amplifier worship of their early days, they began recruiting peers to help build audacious records, as high on concepts as they were on decibels. Noise paragon Merzbow added to the early bedlam, while misfit rock demigod Julian Cope read a poem that inserted Sunn O))) into a continuum of pan-cultural myths to begin their awesome if inchoate White volumes in 2003.
"Play your gloom axe Stephen O'Malley/Sub bass clinging to the sides of the valley/Sub bass ringing in each last ditch and combe/Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom." So recited Julian Cope as part of the playful druidic poetry of My Wall, from 2003's White1. And though doomsmiths to the last, Sunn O)))'s axes have, over the course of their career, proved to be increasingly iridescent, reflecting much more than mere gloom back at their listeners. Indeed, the phrase Life Metal could be interpreted as a description of the profoundly abstract, ear-splitting drone for which the band are so cherished.