The beauty of ritual
Let’s face it—Sunn O))) is the kind of band that you can’t just dive into blindly. While most think of metal and its subgenres as avenues to worship the old gods or be violently aggressive to their cranial regions for the sake of heavy riffs and blast beats, there’s an entirely different side to it. Call it gentler—ambient, even—but this other side to metal is the one that Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have carved Sunn O)))’s entire distorted niche out of. And they’re great at it, as an overview of their incredibly busy year can surely prove. They released Life Pedals, their own (limited) collaboration line of guitar pedals with EarthQuaker, and even dropped a whole other album, titled Life Metal. With this life pattern aside, Life Metal’s companion piece Pyroclasts expresses the fruits of ceremonious labor… and it’s beautiful.
Steeped in aural ritualization, Pyroclasts is the seemingly milder of the two, leaning heavily on drone has a foundation for each of the songs. That’s thanks to the band’s ritual practice during the Life Metal recording sessions—with Steve Albini yet again behind the board, O’Malley, Anderson and company would play around with a modal drone for 12 minutes at the beginning and end of each session, with Pyroclasts being the result of those improvised recordings. Even though the tracks, which each run somewhere near 11 minutes, weren’t exactly produced with the intention of becoming actual songs, their composition and arrangement still disclose some sort of emotive narrative. Opener “Frost (C)” lays a base of deeply rich distortion that’s calming more than anything else. Its ambient putters roll gently into “Kingdoms (G),” which ups the ante ever so slightly in tonality. Hums carry on into “Ampliphædies (E)” that eventually form into brighter sounding progressions, all reaching a climactic, temperate release in “Ascension (A).”
There are only so many ways to explain drone and its mechanisms, but understanding truly comes from just listening to Pyroclasts, loudly. Nuances ever so slight meld into a grander scheme of creation, even if inadvertent. It can be difficult to foster conceptually understanding without words to back the premise, but Sunn O))) yet again have shown their mastery at it.