A life not done living
There is little in life more magnificent than the creation of it, and that’s something so many seem to take for granted. Yet, those who understand the essence of this splendor find their own very specific ways of appreciating it. Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have always been able to do this, manipulating the typical thought processes around what music should be in a droning manner of reinvention. Sunn O)))’s ability to manifest abrasively booming soundscapes beautifully is almost surprising. An untrained ear may believe the Seattle duo have been simply turning up reverb and distortion in value of volume over effort into instrumentation for the last 20 years. Yet, their latest record Life Metal adds another seemingly loud opus of proof to their archive of evidence. Rooted within those four tracks is extreme attention to detail, with a crafted execution and perfect understanding of how sound really works. A two-parter—the second half Pyroclasts will be released later this year—Life Metal is in fact not one long song, but an exhibition of the bewitching cycles of sonic life.
The pair weren’t alone in this endeavor, though. Amidst the sonorous resonance one can pick up the sharp production of Steve Albini, whose comprehension for constructing large amounts of something out of minimal materials is an ideal match for Sunn O)))’s drone. As is Icelandic vocalist, cellist and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who adds the most delicate element to album opener “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” with a tender and curious reciting of Aztec poetry backed by all the loudness. As Guðnadóttir’s voice teeters out, Life Metal continues its progression with “Troubled Air.” Think of this track like a prepubescent stage, building on the transition between infancy and teen, where character development begins to enter the picture. Australian composer Anthony Pateras lends his hand in this, providing a gorgeous pipe organ orchestration that can be heard sifted through all the chaos.
We see classic cyclical Sunn O))) with “Aurora,” where riffs circle back around in time with intent. There’s bass provided by Tim Midyett (Silkworm, The Crust Brothers) and electronics by adjunct member T.O.S. Nieuwenhuizen, but there’s still some left to be desired. Even with the 25 minutes of “Novae”—which brings Guðnadóttir back with some added cello—seems unresolved. It’s almost an EP within itself, yet the ending note isn’t necessarily a finale. That might be because Pyroclasts will pick up at that next stage of life this record drops off at in a continuation of the stages.
Either way, what Sunn O))) have birthed is something we long to see finish. As a part of their discography its dynamic in how it maintains its grating exquisiteness, but its next chapter may see that wonder fade, as what happens in real life.