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Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions - 100%

ravenhearted, August 1st, 2009

The brilliant collective mind of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson is already a well-established fact in the world of Metal and experimental music. Together they have done the unthinkable, through hard work and fearless experimentation they have managed to make SUNN O))) a household name. Due to the inaccessible and esoteric nature of Drone-music, this is quite a feat, cementing this duo as the pioneers of an entire genre. For their 2009 full-length, "Monoliths & Dimensions", they have once more recruited the unique voice-talent of Attila Csihar, and a small legion of other contributors. With that being said, let us stare into the void that is SUNN O)))'s inferno.

The journey through "Monoliths & Dimensions" is far from a pleasant one, with a strong sense of dread lurking around every corner and in every crevice. In addition to the trademark vibrating bass and down-tuned guitars, opening track "Agartha" sees Attila delivering a spoken word performance that is unsettling to say the least. This herald of doom is accompanied by a myriad of ambient sounds and textures that suffocates the listener, with an atmosphere so rich that you can almost reach out and touch it. There are horribly dark horn-sections and eerie sound effects, all coming together to form some of the darkest sonic experiences you will ever have. No horror film has ever been able to stir up such a strong feeling of aversion and paranoia, as the fabric of reality is torn up and the walls crack, allowing the beast to surface.

Does this seem horrifying enough for you yet? The journey is only just beginning, and "Big Church" brings in an angelic choir as a new ingredient to this palette of horror. Far from bringing any form of sanctuary, this church only takes us deeper into the void. It's a chapel of apprehension, with walls that keep closing in to crush you. The repeated chanting and whispers seem to merge with the riffs, and the result is one big melting pot of bleak nightmare-fodder.

On "Cydonia", the riffs really start rearing their ugly heads. With a intro that is remarkably catchy for a SUNN O))) piece, this track also brings out their Doom Metal roots. The orchestration is taken up another notch, and the pure ambition of this project really starts shining through. SUNN O))) are not merely musicians, they are like film-directors, bringing out visual elements through their work. The picture they paint is like a Gustave Doré depiction of Milton's "Paradise Lost", in which the epic grandeur and horror mend and become one. The song reaches its peak with a majestic horn-section, and then trails off into static ambiance and more darkness.

The final track of "Monoliths & Dimensions" stands out as the true highlight of the release. Beginning with a subtle soundscape that is right out of the EARTH-gospel (courtesy of the mastermind Dylan Carson), then throwing off its dark mantle and taking a brighter shape. Like ASVA's "A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven" did on their brilliant "What You Don't Know Is Frontier" last year, "Alice" also stands out as a thing of beauty on a album overloaded with grit and ugliness. We have transcended the levels of their hell, and the reward is one final glance at the sun, before O'Malley and Anderson revokes it forever. This is also the only track not featuring Attila's gritty vocals, and instead the horns are allowed to bring us towards the light. If SUNN O))) were to call it quits after this release (which would be a tragedy in itself), "Alice" would be the perfect ending to a truly unique band, with its tenderness standing as the perfect companionpiece to their usual sound.

When the time comes to recall the highlights of 2009, there is no doubt in my mind that "Monoliths & Dimensions" will be dominating the Metal and experimental charts. With an album that goes beyond the realm of music, pushing into cinematic territories while invoking both dread and consolation simultaneously, it's hard to imagine how SUNN O))) can ever top this. If anyone out there is still doubting the genius of this duo, "Monoliths & Dimensions" should convert you into a faithful disciple.

(Online August 1, 2009)

Ailo Ravna


Written for the Metal Observer