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Highly atmospheric, beautiful and majestic - 99%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, February 2nd, 2013

"Monoliths & Dimensions" was the album that finally stamped Dynamic Drone Duo Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley as more than an experimental droning doom metal band and garnered them front-cover recognition on the UK experimental music magazine The Wire even though by then Anderson and SOMA had been very frequent flyers in that rag for several years. For this album, the Sunn men called on several past collaborators including Attila Csihar who performs vocals on all tracks except the last, Oren Ambarchi on guitars and percussion, Jessika Kenney (choir, strings and brass), Dylan Carlson (Earth), Steve Moore, Rex Ritter and Joe Preston, plus various other musical notables who appear for the first time on a Sunn0))) album: the composer and multi-instrumentalist Eyvind Kang, noisician Daniel Menche and trombonists Julian Priester and Stuart Dempster among others. Such an ambitious undertaking that involved no fewer than 30 people working together could have been massive, crowded and bombastic, yet this album manages to sound at once majestic, spacious and lush in parts, and surprisingly intimate and even beautifully elegant and soulful. Each track takes Sunn0))) into very new musical territory (for them) and carves within a distinctive niche for the band that combines the best of their style with whatever Anderson and SOMA find, be it blues, an elegy for Alice Coltrane, choral music, Tibetan Buddhist droning meditation or Csihar's philosophical musings.

The album begins as might be expected for a Sunn0))) with cavernous carve-outs of crusty guitar drone against a surprisingly blank space. The guitars are soon echoed by other droning noises in the distance, not all of which might be guitar-generated. Csihar enters with the solemnity of a seer blessed / cursed with unerring second sight, uttering incomprehensible lyrics in a deathly robotic trance. His dry rattling voice is complemented by creaking-door effects, conch-shell blowings and environmental field recordings suggestive of a forest under rain or a waterfall. The second track mixes slashing guitar drones as sharp as knives with gentle snippets of female-voice choirs led by Kinney and lone male chorister Menche, not normally known for singing. Csihar rattles off like a possessed preacher of the New Age sect Church Universal and Triumphant. The angel-voiced women haltingly sing in the spaces left by the trembling drones and there is a call-and-response narrative followed by Csihar and the choir reminiscent of a satanic litany.

"Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)" is a strange twangy blues-tinged dronerama of chompy-chuggy guitar-concrete riffing with Csihar in full bare-fanged flight (or fight as the case may be) and trombones blaring triumphantly. Majesty of the sort that might have existed in the pyramid-construction times of Nebuchadnezzar and Rameses II rises in parts as Csihar channels his lunar fruitbat avatar and a cast of thousands below him at the foot of the stone ziggurat follow and praise his every utterance. But the best comes with Sunn0)))'s homage to Alice Coltrane, simply titled "Alice", a very different piece from the rest of the album. There is a desert-blues ambience surrounding the track which might be Dylan Carlson's making or under his steady influence. Moments of horror when brass instruments pick up the trail left by electric guitar and take it to near-screeching Bernard-Hermann-"Psycho" heights occur repeatedly. Yet there is a restrained beauty and majesty about this track with the smooth horns contrasting with the steely, slightly bleached-sounding guitars. The riffing may be repetitive but this is not noticeable under the brass instruments, other acoustic instruments and other effects. What initially began as a dark, perhaps menacing piece of music gradually grows light and in the last few moments "Alice" becomes bright, even happy and filled with warm sunshine: a fitting send-off for a musician the Sunn men respect.

The album is highly atmospheric and has a strong feel of other worlds, beings and strange cultures that pulls on the listener to join in. Soloing mournful jazz and harp trilling in the last minutes of "Alice" recall a walk through a cemetery on a bright summer day, seeing one's loved ones at peace. "Hunting and Gathering ..." might capture the exotic tone of life under the rule of pharaohs and the first couple of tracks might be straight from the days of Jesus wandering 40 days and nights in the desert or Mohammed receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel in a desert cave where he meditates. Music can be quite intense and savage one moment; soft, appeasing and sunshine-warm the next. The album is sure to please diehard Sunn0))) fans and win new fans without trying very hard: Sunn0))) stick to their monotone drone-guitar looping routine and other musicians work around them and all parties blend their sounds together. There's hardly anything to fault here though perhaps the very long tracks could have been edited a little for length and Csihar might need restraining sometimes in his speaking-in-tongues routines.

Where Sunn0))) will travel next is hard to tell as Anderson and SOMA are not people to repeat the same thing twice. It is difficult to imagine the duo improving upon this album; the one sure thing we can say about it is that it will be another collaborative effort based around the drone doom metal essentials (and Csihar will be back with more homespun philosophy). True, the band released another full-length after "Monoliths & Dimensions" but that was a reissue and some people might have been lucky enough to get a bonus disc "The Iron Soul of Nothing" with the reissue.