sunn - life metal

SUNN O))): Life Metal (2019)

Day 10 of the #mayvinylchallenge asks for an album that was a “grower” – something that you didn’t initially respond to but learned to love over time. Rather than a record, I wanted to take a few hundred words to talk about the band I couldn’t wrap my head around for the longest time until circumstance and providence met to change the wiring in my brain. The album was Life Metal, and the band was SUNN O))), sonic explorers of the bowel-earth frequencies. Together with its sister album Pyroclasts, I found a music that could cancel the anxiety and chaos churning in my head.

It’s hard to know what really changed with Life Metal. I had tried the band before, notably their supposed “accessible” album Monoliths & Dimensions from 2009 and their collaboration with Boris called Altar. It’s a very specific kind of sound that Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley put out, and even now I can only digest some of it – it’s a fallacy to think that drone is all the same, people holding a single note forever and calling it music. There is a somber rhythm in the cascading waves of sounds. Even in a single massive chord reverberating into the universe you can after a time start to hear the individual notes scream and pull apart in release, fall back together and vibrate against each other in varying veils of solidarity.

I think in the last few years of I was getting so bogged down with the darkness of life, of empty rhetoric masquerading as truth and just the vilest kind of behavior I needed something equally large and leviathan to level the noise in my brain. Enter Life Metal. Whether it’s the haunting vocals of Hildur Guðnadóttir echoing through the orchestral “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” or the bells and organ that transcend through the maelstrom of “Troubled Air” I find a strange solace, a comfort. The recording captured by Steve Albini is incredible, really giving the minimal arrangements by the band a weight that can level mountains but never weigh your soul down.

Is this how SUNN O))) feels for everyone? Is it how I should feel for all their releases? I find myself drawn to their recent stuff, but the music that I feel I should like – like the menacing metallic grind of 2015’s Kannon for example – tend to bounce off of me in favor of the more, well…uplifting tracks.

For now it’s enough to get me through dark days. And it’s enough to compel me to dig deeper into their well of black to see what shapes and sounds might excite me next.

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