Most posts are in german, yet sometimes I switch to english. The title of this blog changes from time to time.
If the title is displayed in Comic Sans, please refresh the site! That's unless you really dig Comic Sans of course.
Interested in me reviewing your music? Please read this!

2019-05-12

SUNN O))) - Life Metal

Ok, while I am already on the subject of drone, there's of course one album every worshipper of crushing low frequencies is talking about right now:




SUNN O))) - Life Metal (2LP) (2019)


Sunn O))) is a band with a very special, specific sound and vision, yet at the same time they never take themselves too seriously. The album title "Life Metal" is a parade example of this dichotomy: It's based on a long-running inside joke among the band members, which itself comes from Nicke Andersson telling them about getting death threats and being called "Life Metal", back in the day when his band Entombed stylistically moved away from Death Metal towards Death'n'Roll.

Sunn O))) are now using the phrase in reference of themselves "wimping out" and sounding less evil than on most previous works. But while the title is a joke, its visual realization is a very damn serious contender for "cover artwork of the year".
The various paintings of Samantha Keely Smith used on the gatefold of "Life Metal" are vivid, almost tangible, yet still mysterious masterpieces. Is this the creation of life itself eternalized in oil paint? I don't know, but as all of the artist's works they are absolutely amazing.

As usual with Sunn O))) the double record comes in thick cardboard sleeves and is a haptic experience which does the artwork justice.

I bought my copy at Roadburn before the official release date, so I was a little bummed that this early pressing didn't come in one of those fancy colours with I'm seeing posted on facebook daily now, but on the other hand the sound quality of my black one is top-notch, so I'm not crying about it. 





Speaking of sound:

I involuntary had to approach this album in an unusual matter. Back from Roadburn it first took a while until I could turn my attion towards it - and that was when I was getting sick and could only listen to one track at a time before sleeping. So my first listen took a couple of days. It also was at a relatively moderate volume. And it already sounded fantastic!
Not saying that older Sunn O))) records sound bad if you don't turn them loud enough, but this is a band which repeatedly insists that "maximum volume yields maximum results"! And boy, the guitars already sound so remarkably full and crispy on lower volumes.

Producer Steve Albini's magic surely did work.

Compared to excessive productions over a long period of time like "Monoliths & Dimensions" this is a relatively basic recording. Kind of back to the roots, albeit with a shift in purpose.



Most of what we're hearing is the core trio of the live band during recent years: Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley on guitars, strictly seperated by channel, Anderson left, SOMA right. And inbetween and all around Tos Nieuwenhuizen grounds the deep droning with his even deeper Moog foundation.


Besides those three the list of musical contributors is short: Tim Midgett on bass, one track with Anthony Pateras on pipe organ, but most important Hildur Guðnadóttir on cello, vocals and Halldorophone. The latter is a rather young experimental string instrument. Hildur is probably its most prominent player and you might recognize her eerie performance from the late Jóhann Jóhannson's great soundtrack to the movie "Arrival".

(The Icelandic composer has also worked with Stephan O'Malley on the soundtrack for "Mandy", so it's not surprising that O'Malley has dedicated "Life Metal" to him.)


Sunn O))) live in Hamburg, 2019

"Life Metal" consists of four tracks, one for each record side, spanning from around twelve to over twenty-five minutes.

The opener "Between Sleipnir's Breaths" opens with classic deep Sunn O))) drone metal chords, but doesn't wait long - not even two minutes - until it introduces shining lighter colours, which evoke epic grandeur, before it's time for Hildur's strangely soft and close vocal performance, which is quite a weird choice of arrangement and production, but works perfectly. Goosebumbs.

Even though the vocal colour is a lot different, this female presence makes me think of Big|Brave, who have by the way also just released a new album.

But what about Anna von Hausswolff, you might ask? Well, I do need references for the following, all fully instrumental, tracks too, and as the drone gods would have it, the second one "Troubled Air" is intensely breathing over a mighty pipe organ, von Hausswolff's signature tool. Of course this also calls back to Sunn O)))'s own live recording "Domkirke". It's a rather simple, but all the more magnificient composition.

"Aurora" is the darkest, most depressing and by far the most traditional track on here. Honestly it very much feels like something you might have heard in almost exactly that way before from Sunn O))). It is still very good however - and you're hearing it in the sexiest guitar sound they have ever created on a studio album.

Last comes the colossal long-track "Novæ". It begins similar to "Aurora", but grows to a wider grandiosity, enriched with more of Hildur's enigmatic sounds and during the middle even carried almost exclusively by the Halldorophone (at least I guess that's what this is), followed by the most ambient section of the album, with has also the most cinematic score quality.      


Sunn O))) live in Hamburg, 2019
All in all "Life Metal" is a great album, which takes the idea of a slightly more light and positive version of Sunn O))), which was already planted in its predecessor "Kannon", but leads it to a much clearer result. On "Kannon" there were still lots of vocals (including Attila Csihar), samples and stuff of all kinds, which made it much more busy than "Life Metal" is. And it had only half the running time.


This one relies a lot more on pure feeling and the fantastic production.



Musically "Life Metal" is neither the most original nor experimental work of Sunn O))), who are playing it pretty save here. But who cares, when it sounds so fucking good? This album knows exactly what it wants to be and does a splendid job of fulfilling its own premise.



It will be very interesting to see however, what their next album will be like, as it was recorded during the same sessions as "Life Metal", but supposedly shows a more ambient side of the band. I'm already very eager to hear that.


Until then "Life Metal" will surely grant me many hours of marvelously droning escapism.

Metal is life.









Keine Kommentare:

Kommentar veröffentlichen