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A Fucking Brass Band?! - 85%

UncleMeat, May 19th, 2009

Wow. What Sunn O))) has achieved here is something truly remarkable. Never before, after all the preceding years of collaborations and experiments with a large number of different musicians, had they reached the level of mastery attained on ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’, the newest addition to the ever-growing Sunn O))) discography.

The album starts out with what Sunn O))) are best known for; low-end, sludgy mammoth riffing played at a snails pace, the trait that seems to be the make-it-or-break-it factor for those who hear the band for the first time. Some like it and can listen to those riffs for hours, but others can hardly stand five minutes. Well, this album has enough doom-laden, droning riffing to satisfy the older Sunn O))) fans who still worship the mightiness of ‘ØØ Void’ and ‘The GrimmRobe Demos’, as well as well as other, less conventional, elements to satisfy those who want more to their drone other then just downtuned, sludging mayhem. Lingering above the guitar and bass in the first part of “Aghartha” is Attila Csihar’s croaking murmurs, which adds a substantial amount of eeriness to the atmosphere. While all this is happening, something is dwelling beneath, inching its way up in the mix as it builds in intensity. At first, you start to think its some piercing synth effect, as it is after all a Sunn O))) album, but’s a fucking STRING ORCHRESTRA!! How sweet is that? But of course it would be totally out of place if it were playing some nice, gentle harmonies, and it would ruin the atmosphere completely, but Sunn know better. Instead, the strings create a screeching, cacophonous wall of sound in a very atonal, Vibracathedral Orchestra-esque manner (all fans of drone need to check that band out, ASAP). Eventually the guitars and bass are replaced with a barrage of bellowing trombones and various horns, creating a very overwhelming swell of endless drooooones.

I’m typically not one to do song-by-song reviews, but I simply cannot help myself in this case, as each songs on ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’ differ greatly from one another. The second song on here is “Big Church”, which begins with none other then a female church choir, until they are quickly obliterated by the crushing downtuned guitar and bass onslaught that follows. But this does not last long, as the choir appears again a short while later, coinciding with the droning extremely well, and actually gives the song a very doomed, epic feeling, as if something really, really terrible is about to happen. This builds and builds until *DING*, a giant church bell breaks the ruckus with a single hit, until the sludge frenzy begins again with more low-end dirges. This continues until the choir subdues them yet again, until all of a sudden, Attila comes into the mix with multiple layers of Gregorian chant-like throat singing. And as the droning rumbles on, layer upon layer builds up and up until *DING*, yet another silence created by a sole church bell. This formula repeats itself one more time before the song ends in an abrupt, dizzying manner.

My favorite song on the album would have to be “Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)”. It starts out with the song’s main riff played through an effect that makes it sound as if it were being played on a shitty radio and the reception keeps going in and out, creating lots of static. Then the actual riffing barges in with more bass-heavy lunacy that Sunn just do so fucking well. Once the riff burns its place into your brain, which shouldn’t take long, as it is a pretty damn memorable riff, Attila greets us yet again with more chant-like vocals, but this time more in the vein of his work on ‘De Mysteriis’, but with more power. And as if one brass bombardment wasn’t enough, another comes in to demolish anything that may have been left behind the first time it came about. But instead of being there to add a wall of swelling drones, they are actually placed carefully to enhance the chords being played by the guitars, giving the whole sound a glorious sheen to it, something that had not been achieved (or really attempted) on past recordings. This is a clear indication that Sunn really went all out on this one. Once the brass fades out, Attila is back with his signature chant growls, and holy fucking shit do they rule. Really, each time they come back in they sound even better then the last. And this time, following them comes a monstrous keyboard layering, accompanied once again by the brass. This is the song’s climax, where the droning low-end, brass bamboozlement, growling chants and keyboard layers all mesh together and create a colossal tidal wave of pure sonic mayhem. And once again, this is done in a manner only the mighty Sunn could achieve, and anyone who attempted would surely fail.

I’d say “Alice” is the most melodic thing Sunn has ever done (other then “The Sinking Belle”, but that was a collaboration), and actually it worked out quite well. It starts out with some lightly distorted guitar strums and gentle washes of feedback, as well as a slowly but surely pulsing bass guitar. As this builds, other instruments and sounds come into the mix including even more brass, the signature heavy drones, some synths and other atmosphere-inducing textures. This remains the groundwork for the song, but each one of these elements builds throughout, slowly intensifying the enveloping effect that each one of these factors contributes to. And much like “Hunting and Gathering”, the horns here are used to enhance the chords being played by the guitar and bass, as opposed to just being there for the sake of dissonance and discordance, something this song obviously is not after. But that is not to say that this song is a missy prissy ballad. “Alice” is just as heavy as anything else on the album. In fact, the way it builds and builds throughout leads me to the conclusion that it is one of the heaviest pieces this band has ever recorded, sonically, compositionally, and emotionally. The way they mix low-end heaviness with beauty is just incredible.

So I wouldn’t say this is my favorite Sunn O))) release, as that title belongs to ‘ØØ Void’ for its pure sludgy mayhem, but this is definitely up there, and is without a doubt one of their finer studio albums. This album is really a milestone in the drone genre, and I am pretty god damn sure that no other band will be able to top it as the best drone album of 2009.