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I have a tendency to discover bands in the strangest ways. The path through which I discovered Sunn O))), however, may be the strangest of all. In a webcomic I read on a daily basis, in the past year there was a story arc in which the main character was wearing a shirt adorned with the logo "Sunn :)", which according to the author was incredibly ironic because it represented the exact opposite of Sunn O)))'s music. Intrigued, I investigated. Turns out the guy was absolutely right. On one end of the happiness spectrum is the smiley face emoticon, and directly on the other end is this album.
ØØ Void. The title says it all, really. I don't even know how I should pronounce it, but yet it speaks volumes. I like to think that it's supposed to be something like "Null Null Void", but that's merely a favored guess based upon what the album sounds like. "Void" is definitely the best word to use to describe the album, beyond a doubt. It is void of so many things common to the music we hear on a regular basis. It is essentially void of vocals, aside from some background chanting in a couple of spots on the record. It's void of percussion, perhaps simply because there is no need for it, but mostly, I think, because it would clash too strongly with the sound these guys were going for.
It's slow. Hell, it's beyond slow. The music is almost entirely tonal, with almost no focus on rhythm at all. The rhythms, when the music isn't simply droning bass tones, are ultra-slow chugging riffs that hit with massive impact. As if it was the textbook definition of the genre, it drones. It's dark, and it's empty. There is no joy here. The whole album is lost in a dark, foreboding place, and there is no way to escape. The only thing to do is stay trapped in the darkness until the end finally comes, and then there is nothing.
And yes, I'm well aware that my "artistic" verbal rendering of the album's atmosphere sounds like shitty poetry written by a heartbroken 14-year-old emo kid. The important difference, which is incredibly difficult to communicate via words, is that this album is a very serious meditation on all things dark and ugly. The grim beauty of it all is that ØØ Void says all of this without ever saying a single word. There are no words that I know that can so profoundly communicate the despondency and hopelessness of this record, and that's what makes it amazing. Sunn O))) have achieved what I believe was the purpose of music in the first place - to communicate things that cannot be said.
The only flaw this album has is that you may fall asleep before the end of it, but I think that might be the desired result. There is a very dark and gray peace surrounding the music here, achieved by the masterful production of the guitar and bass tones. Low enough to make your bowels rattle while listening via earbuds, the tonal style here is one that is both thunderously heavy yet stoic and calm at the same time. There is nothing like it. The music has a reassuring constancy about it, with the tonal patterns usually making a circular route and returning to their roots every once in a while, anchoring the deep sound, and reassuring that trapped feeling.
The bass is unspeakably deep, easily the deepest I have ever heard. The astonishing depth of the tone is established immediately from the beginning of the album, with the deep-delving tonal patterns of "Richard". The opening/main riff of the first track resonates so powerfully that even months after first hearing it I can still remember it offhand with minimal effort. It washes over the listener like an ominous wave of aural doom, and it never goes away. NN O))) is the most "upbeat" (read: oxymoron) track on the album, which still drips like molasses. The strongest track, I think, is Rabbit's Revenge, a Melvins cover. In complete honesty, I can barely recognize the original song compared to this. However, these bizarre sorts of covers are standard fare for Sunn O))), as they would later cover Metallica's For Whom the Bell Tolls on a subsequent album, and that is also essentially unrecognizable in comparison. The closing track has the least rhythm of all the songs here, and is the most drone oriented. It is so obtuse and strung-out that the end of the album comes like an abrupt surprise as the noise gets all scrambled and then just stops.
And once it ends, you're left with nothing but a sense of emptiness and astonishment at the power of the recording. This album is phenomenal. It's the antithesis of much of the music featured on this site in execution, but is the summary of most of it aesthetically. Regardless of the legacy of Sunn O))), this is certainly a landmark achievement in recording and should be listened to by everyone, at least once. That one time may be all you need for it to change your life.
This second album by Sunn0))) is available as a 2012 reissue together with the reworked version by Nurse With Wound. For me it's a great abstract work and the template on which future Sunn0))) work builds. It may be very doomy and sinister for many, even most people but I find a relaxing, comforting element in it: perhaps it's the never-ending repetition of the drone riffs or the epic nature of the thick grinding guitar textures, that encourages me to feel that way. The influence of Earth as it was in the early 1990s is very strong here and reminds us that Sunn0))) originally formed as an Earth tribute band: the reference point for "00 Void" is Earth's "2" album which features very long tracks of repetitive riff loops and constant background noise texture.
The reliance on super-low bass frequencies is obvious throughout the album, especially on the first track "Richard" which is dominated by a repetitive loop of one swooping note followed by a stationary note, over and over, while guitar feedback quivers in the background. This is Sunn0))) at their most glacial and monumental: two over-used adjectives, I know, but relevant in this case. The rest of the album can seem fussy by comparison.
"NN0)))" might be seen as a further development on "Richard" in that the loop has more notes but it's still a highly repetitive piece with just that loop and another drone in the background providing a lighter, more delicate counterpoint. The loop does change when you least expect it to and that in itself might encourage you to pay more attention in case there are more subtle changes. Sure enough, we're rewarded about the ninth minute when the song adds extra rumble and the riff changes, and the whole elaborate edifice suddenly looks (or rather sounds) even bigger, more ziggurat-like, with ten extra storeys of concrete slab and dark over-arching endless corridors on top. The track dissipates after the 11th minute and becomes an apparent "mess" of drones and rumbles holding to each other precariously.
The Melvins homage "Rabbits' Revenge" is as quietly malevolent and atmospheric as Sunn0))) gets with that intimidating and maddeningly repetitive bass loop that continues through the track while near-industrial guitar drones weave evil magic around it. Interestingly there's a poppy sing-along sample with a tinny tambourine in the distant background; might that be something of the original Melvins version snuck in there for a laugh? Listeners might be forgiven for thinking they're hallucinating but I assure you the sample is there.
For a brief time "Ra at Dusk" throws the focus onto the guitar feedback that so far has been the quiet partner to the droning riffs on this album. Compared to previous tracks this threatens to be a real roaring track and sometimes I wish it had been so - but Sunn0))) bring this savage beast to a calmer plane of existence and there it stays, majestic in its layers of booming bass drone. The track really picks up near the end where it descends into an abyss like a giant condor just shot down - a clever way to end the album.
Emphasis here is on plunging the listener into a universe ruled by drone and guitar feedback, generating its unique and sometimes wondrous soundscapes, so traditional metal elements like percussion, melody and song structures get short shrift or are left out altogether. Improvisation is important as well. Having said that, I'd recommend this album for people new to Sunn0))) as it's the foundation for what the band would do later and it's an excellent example of how minimalism as a concept (the use of repetition to sustain a piece of music, forcing listeners to pay attention to the texture of the sound, among other things) can be applied to metal and make it as abstract and experimental as other genres of music like musique concrete, noise and free improv.
Sunn's earlier stuff is real appealling to me. While I do like their more abstract, later work (particularly White2) I prefer it when Sunn drop the ambient tunes, and the strange collaborations, and just tune their guitars real low and drone for a long time. Of course, while drone is good, you do need some sort of variety- and luckily, OOVoid manages to keep you (relatively) interested- it's not just riffs for the sake of riffs.
Most people know what to expect with Sunn- that is, massive, incredibly down tuned riffs played very slowly. This album is probably where Sunn O))) took their drone the furthest, and where it's at its most pure. It's slower then the Grimmrobe demos and less abstract then their later stuff. The production is by far the bassiest you've heard in any Sunn O))) album (which says a lot). There's almost no top end at all- just massive sub bass frequencies that hurt your throat if you don't sit properly. It's real impressive.
TO try to think of a better way of describing the Sunn O))) experience, instead of doing a review, I'm just going to write about what listening to this band feels like (at very loud volumes, of course.) Just picture the scene- you're sitting on a couch, you've got a nice big cranked stereo, and then.. you press the play button.
First, you really start feeling the sub bass. It's not always a nice feeling- your ears get really pressureized, your throat hurts, sometimes your stomach cramps up. You can hear certain things in your house vibrating and humming- like they're about to break. The riffs aren't all that great- really, the whole thing is boring as hell. You're not really enjoying this experience- but you DID just pay for a CD, so you may as well give it a chance.
Slowly, however, things start changing. The riffs pound you into a steady trance, and soon, you are at one with the music. You can't really feel your limbs all that much- it may be the trance, or it may be numbness, but you're liking it anyway. You remember how you where once bored with the riffs- but now, there is nothing but a primal awe of them- they are your world. They are everywhere. And they're huge, monolithic and oh so bassy. You can't think about anything else. Eventually, you stop thinking. There's no thought about anything- just the absorption of the overwhelming sound.
Basically, this experience, or ritual as you could call it, goes on for roughly an hour, until the album finally ends. While obviously seeing Sunn live is much better- this is still good. Please, to everyone thinking of buying some Sunn O))) cd's- Listen to them on big Speakers!!! Otherwise there is absolutely no point buying this kind of stuff. Maximum volume yields maximum results.
Really, this review is addressed to those who are curious about Sunn O))) and Drone in particular. If you hate drone, you're not going to like this album. If you like drone- well, this is probably the best heavy drone album you'll ever hear. If you're new into drone- let me warn you. This is not exciting in any way. But, with proper sound reinforcement, this slow, crawling group of riffs becomes hypnotic and worthy of awe and wonder.
To be honest, there’s not much to say about this album that hasn’t already been said, but this is my favorite Sunn O))) release, and I’ve read a few assessments (less than 2, perhaps) of this album in various places on metal-archives which contain opinions that I would consider to be complete untruths passed off as hard facts. Hopefully I can balance this out with my usual over-enthusiasm and half-truths.
First of all, a lot has been made of this album’s stupidly-heavy heaviness. But not enough has been made of its FUCKING AWESOMENESS. And to be fair, the album isn’t THAT amazingly heavy. I can understand that you sometimes need to over-state your case and exaggerate when you’re writing a review to make sure that people get what you’re trying to say, like “I’M NOT FUCKING JOKING, THIS ALBUM IS REALLY, REALLY DOWNTUNED”, and fair enough; it is. But to say that it’s far, far too downtuned, distorted and that the notes are indistinguishable (as some people may or may not have hinted at on certain websites) is just plain bollocks and misleading to people who haven’t heard it. The bass on this album in particular is clear as fuck, which is one of the things lacking on the other Sunn O))) albums and is one of the reasons it’s my favorite one. If the notes are indistinguishable to you I can only assume that you have a problem hearing low frequencies, or are a complete plank. If, hypothetically speaking, someone was to state that the album consists of randomly selected single notes played at 9 to 11-second intervals, that would lead me to assume that either they didn’t actually listen to this album or just enjoy being completely fucking wrong. Either way, they would be completely fucking wrong.
The intro to this album is class, opening with the bass playing an already-fairly-low note before crunching a whole octave lower, which, yes, is pretty fuckin low, but is completely audible, it’s an a-sharp if I remember right, so its not as if you’ve never heard anything anywhere near as low as this. The bass plays through two whole cycles of the riff, which takes about 1 minute 10 seconds, before the guitars join in, feedbacking all over the place. This riff is comprised of almost entirely 2 notes, both which happen to be A-Sharp. Despite that, it sounds fantastic. The screaming horn sound which comes in towards the end is great and I can’t think of a better way to describe it than when Julian Cope likened it to seagulls being sucked into a giant jet-engine and screeching for ever into eternity. At the very end of the track the guitars cut out abruptly, leaving the screaming seagull-horn sound to echo out. Brilliant stuff.
I think the problem some people have with the perceived monotony of this album starts with track 2, being as it’s in exactly the same key as track one, and at first seems to be much of the same. When I first heard this I thought that too, but after hearing it more you realize that it’s in a totally different time signature, it just takes a while to get used to how slow these tracks are, especially without the drums to help you. This track has some pretty cool vocals, which, when they change over the chord sequence, sort of results in a weird 2-note melody. Some weird swishy-air sounds swoosh about in the background before it ends as abruptly as the first track.
Track 3 is called Rabbit’s Revenge, which is a downright shit name for a song, but it’s my favorite on this album. It starts off with some amazing, clear-sounding feedback in each speaker before the (clear as fuck) bass riff rumbles in underneath in a weird time signature (maybe another reason for the supposed random-sounding riffs on this album). This part is cool as fuck, I could listen to it all day, just waiting for the rest to crunch in. And crunch in it does, the guitars, predictable following the bass riff before morphing into a weird mid-section with feedback-a-plenty and some weird samples in the background too. This churns on for a perfect 14 minutes before fading out.
The last track is a bit different from the other 3, much faster, although still pretty slow, with “proper” riffs being played, much like Earth, who by their own admission they started off as a bit of a tribute to. The start of this track, to me sounds more along the lines of the things they would try on their next album Flight of the Behemoth before huge a huge drone ends the album.
Sunn O))) would go on to be more varied and experimental, but this is the best place to start for beginners in my opinion, because although it lacks some of the more ambient tracks they released later, it’s a pretty high quality slab of classic Sunn O))).
Oh, and I’m giving this album 100% to try and balance out the average a bit.
When I was a young fella’ struggling with the amazing wonders of modern Compact Disc technology, I once recorded an entire Iron Maiden album at half speed. While I was puzzled as to why a 40–minute album wouldn't fit onto one side of a 90–minute tape, I was highly impressed with the result. This release is more like the result of the same technological mishap, but recorded at quarter speed.
Mere adjectives are not enough to describe the power and magnificence contained within a mere five inches of plastic. Words like "glacial", "monolithic", "monumental", "primal" and "prehistoric" come to mind, but they are inadequate to describe the depth of feeling and emotion generated by the droning, throbbing tones contained within. And powerful it is. Slab after massive slab emanates from the speakers, building a metallic tower of Babel that crashes down over the listener in enormous chunks. The feeling generated must be similar to that of the medieval torture method called pressing — more and more weight stacked on the chest of a helpless heretic until either a confession is forthcoming or the collapse of both skeleton and internal organs under the increasing pressure brings sweet deathly relief.
There is simply no room in the sonic spectrum here for vocals, percussion, or anything but the simplest riffs. Occasionally, the guitars back off a sliver, and allow sparse use of samples, as in the track "Rabbit's Revenge", but otherwise, it's amplified oppression of the purest order. Extreme electronic music may have artists like Scorn and Lull who play slowly, and metal has had the likes of My Dying Bride and Winter, but this makes Winter's legendary "Into Darkness" seem like a high speed blast beat thrash fest.
This is the sound of tectonic plates grating each other as the continents inexorably shift in a timeless geological ballet as forces older than life inevitably grind to an apocalyptic conclusion. Listen to the volcanic rumblings within and lose yourself in the vast wastes of the universe.