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Searching for the riddle of the clouds - 90%

Wilytank, October 9th, 2012

One of the fun things about Sunn O)))'s live album is that they almost never reproduce their studio material exactly as it is. They've done some unique things to change up White 2 in Live White, Black One in La Mort Noir dans Esch, and now Monoliths... to Agharti. Monoliths and Dimensions was one of Sunn O)))'s more well received offerings, and Agharti is the live companion to that album. Even those who are simply into Sunn O))) for Monoliths... fandom should probably be curious to see what they did live.

For instance, the song "Aghartha" from Monoliths and Dimensions is only about 17 minutes long; but in Agharti, the song is stretched to two whole songs. "Aghartha"'s first five and a half minutes of nothing but heavy guitar droning is drawn out for 18 minutes in the song "Descent/Ascent", and Attila Csihar's monologue doesn't come in until the second track, the awkwardly titled "A/Interior I/Eye". There's no even flow between these two pieces though, so you could easily skip the 18 minute droning if you really wanted to. The overall atmosphere in the live album isn't nearly as dark as the studio album either. The heavy riffs in the beginning of "Aghartha" are not quite as heavy and menacing in the live version. The guitar work and Attila's monologue are also notably lighter sounding in "A/Interior I/Eye".

However, despite Agharti's delivery of elements being lighter than its studio counterpart, the atmosphere generated here is no less mystifying. The light spaciness of "A/Interior I/Eye" is just as capable of evoking daydreams as "Aghartha"'s dark dreariness. Though the guitars in the live version follow roughly the same notes as "Aghartha", they're played with this lighter sound like you'd hear on the closer to Monoliths..., "Alice". These guitars are eventually joined by some sort of bells or chimes or keyboard, or some other sort of mystic sounding instrument. It's an interesting change from "Aghartha"'s vertigo inducing violins, conchs, and creaky wood sounds. Attila here reads his monologue with the same script he had on "Aghartha"; but in this live version, the song is only half way through its length when he's done reciting the monologue.

It's here where things really take a turn for the incredibly interesting. Following the monologue in "A/Interior I/Eye", Attila performs some Hungarian throat singing, something he doesn't do in the studio. And it sounds great here because it just sounds so alien, especially since the guitars stop playing at this point and he's just going on. It's parts like this on Sunn O)))'s live material that make me think "Why didn't they do this in the studio? It would have been awesome!" On top of the throat singing, there's a French horn that comes in to accompany his throat singing when he gets to this second verse invoking an interesting image in my head of a vast, open field at night; its a pretty notable difference from the claustrophobic, underground ruin feeling in Monoliths and Dimensions.

The remaining two songs, "H&G (Foraging)" and "Churchdust", are based off of two more songs from Monoliths..., "Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)" and "Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért)" respectively. "H&G" is the less interesting of the two here. Despite being shorter than the album version, the tempo is slower and the main riff is dragged out for almost the entire song. Also, the awesome spacey breaks in the studio version of the song are absent from the live version which was a real bummer to me.

Meanwhile, "Churchdust" is a much more interesting piece. Though it's shorter than its studio counterpart, it takes an interesting approach of its own. There's no choir in this live version. Instead, there's synths here to create an eerie atmosphere while Attila does a clean vocal chant and the guitars go from heavy droning to cleaner strumming back to heavy droning. There's only one major crescendo here as opposed to "Big Church..."'s three, but the one that is here tolls the end of the song and the live album, so it ends up working just fine.

Agharti is a refreshing second look at Monoliths and Dimensions, and I feel that this live album is superior to the studio one in some parts. It's a very cool drone doom metal composition, and the only really big instance of it being uncool is the fact that it's a vinyl release. Regardless, I recommend fans of Sunn O))) to figure out some way to listen to this, because in the end it's well worth it.