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A meditation on dark and foreboding things... - 98%

GiantRex, May 3rd, 2012

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.