When it boils down to ambience and riffs equivalently deep to that of black holes, the masterminds that are Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have been drone music’s right hand men under the pseudonym Sunn O))). Having a plethora of releases from studio demos, full lengths, EP’s, live albums, etc. the duo of drones reunite once again for two releases set before the second decade of this millennium comes to a close–one of which we have been introduced to thus far entitled “Life Metal”.
With the amount of experimentation that’s circulated throughout the band’s entire career, and while remaining true to the hypnotic distortion that they continue to endorse, Sunn O)))’s abrasive wall of sound follows a pattern that isn’t as opaque and dreaded as many would find on most of their work. Though the layers upon layers of extreme bellows of guitars say otherwise, the overall atmosphere that’s inoculated into the production doesn’t exclusively carry that same amount of trepidation and catastrophe that conceptualises a majority of Sunn O)))
The soft harmonies executed by the vocals of Hildur Guðnadóttir that we first hear on Between Slepnir’s Breaths almost work as somewhat of a distraction to the listener where it’s not all doom n’ gloom, save that the Gregorian chanting of Attila Csihar isn’t present throughout the entirety of “Life Metal”. However, the instrumental piece Troubled Air sees the return of the more cataclysmic setting Sunn O))) have always been known for; with screeches of feedback and calamitous buzzing from the strings and ridiculously destructive amplification in the mixing.
The soprano of Hildur Guðnadóttir returns once again in the beginning of Aurora, where she croons along to the notes executed by O’Malley in the process of the nineteen minute-long epic. Past the thirteen minute mark, the feedback and distant crooning gets even more unsettling as the minutes go by. Sunn O))) also take the time to incorporate Moog synthesizers and bass cellos into the mix which all can be picked up on in the grand finale Novae. Though the persistent droning of the guitars continue to be harsh and portentous, the additional instrumentation of the synthesizers, cellos and organs become just as antagonising in the progression of the track.
Sunn O))) have always been about capturing a scene in each record. While the digital approach became apparent to 2015’s “Kannon”, “Life Metal” takes after the “Monoliths & Dimensions” but in less of the abysmal perspective. If one were to ask exactly how “Life Metal” could be described and differentiated from Sunn O)))’s predecessors, I can address with confidence that as coarse and confronting as this record is, “Life Metal” feels more like catching a glimpse on the bright side of the dark, misanthropic nature that is ‘life’. Of course, one of the many things you could compare Sunn O))) and this album to, is like getting high, but also experiencing this new form of astral projection that one has yet to interpret properly. In all honesty, as much as I continue to recommend the hell out of Sunn O)))’s music to everyone, it’s rather transparent that Sunn O))) are for the musically inquisitive and patient. If you are the latter, then you’ll come to find Sunn O)))’s “Life Metal” as one of the best 2019 has offered so far.