Sunn O))) Endurance Runn O))): Part 5 The Abyss Stares Back

Okay, wow. Sort of a long hiatus there huh? Nevertheless, and dedicating this article to the proposition of perseverance, I shall continue, despite/in spite of the internet’s continuing indifference.

Sunn? Oh! Sunn! Sunno? NO!
Sunn? Oh! Sunn! Sunno? NO!
It is pronounced “Sun”. The “O)))” is silent. Please remember this, lest you look foolish in the hipster metal community.

I am now listening to this stuff on my KRK RP5s, so the sound is noticeably better, and louder, even. Mmm, I love my KRKs. They do the job quite nicely for their size.

Candlewolff ov Thee Golden Chalice (2005)

First full listen.

“Candlewolff” is kind of a funny name, huh? And “ov”? And “thee”? So either Sunn O))) have some sense of humour, here poking fun at the black metal aesthetic,  or else they’re humourless grimmer-than-thou posturing hipsters bereft of any sense of irony.

It’s the former, I can assure you. Contrary to your cynicism, Sunn O))) are HILARIOUS and capable of laughing at themselves – laughter perhaps being one appropriate response to the darkness they choose to channel (more on that later, folks).

This is a Peel Session. That’s right, John Peel. Late, great, DJ of continuously curious musical interest. This was commissioned before Peel’s sudden death in 2004, but recorded shortly thereafter. It sort of makes sense John Peel would be into Sunn O))), because he was always looking for something new.

Candlewolff appears to feature a line-up from the White era, but feels like an extension of earlier ideas. The drones quickly build into a long wall of typically amorphous low-end distortion, until the second-half introduces Tanpura, an indian instrument. This is plucked slowly throughout the third quarter of the piece, creating a mid-range patina on proceedings. Synths also become increasingly present, until suddenly the band switches gears back to Sunn O))) classic, slow guitar riffs ringing out into the looming darkness. Meaty, wet meate.

I like this one.

Black One (2005)

Do you want to clear the room at parties? Parties full of insufferable metalheads? Look no further, hipsters. Black One might just be the One for you.

This was the first Sunn O))) record I bought, back in late ’05. Also the first time I saw them live, was just after its release. It’s never been my favourite, but it is kind of a milestone.

Okay, so you know how black metal is kind of all about “oh, look how grim and evil I am?” Yeah? Except in order to achieve that a lot of black metal records adhere to a musical aesthetic that means intentionally lo-fi production values. I mean sure, okay, in the early days in Norway, bands really were recording on ghetto-blasters in their bedrooms. And burning down churches and killing each other, for that matter. But now that lo-fi sound has become a meaningless crutch for some bands.

Sunn O))) are not so infatuated with the high-end of the frequency spectrum. Here they decided to take their love of black metal aesthetics, and add ALL OF THE BASS in the WORLD. You know, the sound of the Earth’s core, humming. That’s what Black One tries to be, and for the most part, is.

There’s also a noise component, which they use to fill out the high-end. The guitar-sound in BM is often so distorted and shrill that it’s impossible to ascertain any sense of pitch, instead appearing to be white noise. Sunn O))) have taken that literally, and liberally sprinkle scalding hot static fizz over the proceedings.

We open with a short Oren Ambarchi dark ambient piece, all rattling, slow bowed cymbals and abstract mood-setting stuff. It Took the Night to Believe however, kicks things off in true BM style. The same tremolo-picked riff continues throughout, while the bass end does that Sunn O))) thing, only sounding sickly and diseased somehow. It’s really low. BM vocals via Wrest (of one-man BM outfit Leviathan). Dark stuff. Death, desecration, suffering, all of it. Surprisingly intelligible words too.

We move on to Cursed Realms, with haunting lo-fi screams by Malefic (of another one-man band Xasthur) and screeching, squelching noise by noted noise-aficionado John Wiese. Sunn O)))’s low end rumble here is terrifying.

The album continues this contrast, the icy piercing highs of black metal, riding atop glaciers of thick low-end guitar drone. It seems an ideal marriage of two styles, but it is not fun. Nor is it meant to be. It’s interesting to see the group homing in on one particular kernel of an idea here, and how they abstract that idea in their own Sunn O))) fashion. Even more traditional Sunn O))) pieces like Orthodox Caveman are touched by this aesthetic.

Cry for the Weeper is probably the most interesting track for me, which I feel most effectively blends the disparate influences on the record into a new sound all of its own.

You know what, this isn’t really as off-putting and harsh a listen as I had remembered. Guess I was just a little less battle-hardened in the heady days of 2005.

Oh and just so you know what you’re getting yourself in for. Bass-heavy closing track Báthory Erzébet features vocalist malefic’s terrified screaming from inside of a casket… Yep. That fact alone makes this track more terrifying and ridiculous that it otherwise would be.

Yes, so the whole thing is a pantomime, but you try listening to this stuff in the pitch dark and tell me it ain’t no thang, G. Blackest guy on the train, right here.

Sorry, in-joke.

Next-time, on The Very Best of Internet Fridge-Hum Torture

The blackness continues, oh my word! Live stuff and out-takes from the Black phase. Side note, unlike White1  and White2, there is no Black Two.

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