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Black Massive - 95%

Satanic_Shoe, June 2nd, 2009

Sunn O)))'s reputation precedes the band, most certainly. The dynamic droning duo of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson have made quite a name for themselves in the musical underground under their defunct amplifier moniker, offering up molten slabs of Earth-drone, often taking the concept even further than anything Carlson and co. did. Although controversial in nature for their minimalist approach, the boys in Sunn O))) have an abvious willingness to experiment (if Black One and the hundreds of side-projects didn’t already make this clear). Their latest effort, and easily their best, is Monoliths & Dimensions, another boundary-pushing lurch from the bowls of hell.

The spine of this album is classic slower-than-a-crippled-snail, heavy-as-fuck guitar drones. But what is the true genius of the album is the introduction of complex soundscapes wrought from a horrific misuse of elegant brass and string sections and beautiful female choral arrangements, as well as some of the usual elements )that are still unusual for bands of this style). Monoliths & Dimensions is wrought with a cavernous atmosphere that seems like it was recorded in a cathedral, and the methodic unraveling of the meticulous soundscapes brings to mind a foreboding, slow, satanic sermon.

Attila Csihar seems to assume the role of preacher on this album, and "Aghartha" stands out as being the opening of some dark mass. Warped violin textures crawl like roaches and surge like a plague behind Csihar’s inching recitation. A foul wind blows through the half-broken windows of the cathedral, rattling the loose odds and ends of the far-off chandeliers and the wooden pews below them, flipping pages of scorched Bibles and the black shirts and skirts of receptive minions reveling in the word. To most, the sound alone would be disgusting, a message to any wayward Christians to turn back at once.

The opening choral passage of "Big Church" resembles a creed sung by once-heavenly female voices, fallen angels chanting The Lord’s Prayer in reverse. The preacher spouts curses against God, his words echoing off the arches and stained-glass of the forsaken cathedral in which he preaches. The congregation joins in with these ghastly melodies as if in confirmation of what they know they must do: to wage war on God. This gentle malice segues into ‘Hunting & Gathering”, a heavy and more doomy piece that carries a steady and easily-followed pace, in contrast to the first two tracks which take on a more ambient approach. The pace here is methodical and ritualistic, like Satan himself is being summoned. His dark soldiers of Earth prepare for battle, and a martial meter complete with warrior’s chants is kept.

"Alice", the finale to this behemoth, is a sort of white light in the night. It's strange, surging glimmers of sonic sun-rays pierce the darkened stained-glass windows of the cathedral and a quiet battle of light and dark ensues, with the trumpets of angels sounding valiantly against the wavering drones of demonic guitars. Soon, strings come subtly in to join the battle of angels and demons. The guitars soon become disoriented, fighting against themselves as the string and wind orchestra overpower all that was left of the mighty church of the king serpent of the furnace. The cathedral is beautifully ravished and life returns to the barren grounds tainted by the presence of the House of Hell as it lies in a heap of rubble. The song ends as if a new day is beginning: a harp flutters over a stern cello like a butterfly dancing in the air above a regiment of holy knights, before a horn stands alone atop a hill mourning the losses suffered in the battle and those lost to the dark lord, yet embracing victory of good over evil as the sun rises behind the player.

With this release, it’s apparent Sunn O))) are done with the boring, ultra-minimal, indecipherable guitar slaughter, and ready for a more mature career (if it continues from here). The experimentation with classical elements to create these black and cavernous soundscapes is incredible to say the least, and it makes me anticipate what these gents will come up with next, for rarely is a drone release so very enthralling.

Revised: 3/2/11