Purveyors of the most brutal music since cavemen decided that hitting each other over the head with pointy stones made a nice sound, Sunn O))) have carved out rather a niche for themselves. Starting life as an Earth tribute band, and eventually taking on a life of their own, their pursuit of the slowest, sludgiest riffs has been unrelenting. They’ve become the Metal band it’s OK for the terminally hip to like, and the Metal band most likely to confuse the hell out of the archetypal meat headed Metaller (and yes we know Metalheads tend to have the highest IQ scores in tests of music social groups – just indulge us OK?).
All of which brings us to this latest album, Monoliths & Dimensions. Long term collaborator and Mayhem chap Attila Csihar here seeks spiritual truths and answers. In a lot of ways, this is Spinal Tap‘s Stonehenge extrapolated beyond an infinite point, although the jury is out on whether or not Sunn O))) are some kind of glorious sonic joke. The guitar drones as always are a primitive kind of cleanser. They seep into pores, gather in chests and squeeze hearts until they beat so slowly flatlining is a distinct possibility, even as ears drip from heads and form pools around feet.
Exploration of folk themes later on suggests that the band have taken Carlson’s lead when he introduced a distinctly more rootsy flavour to Earth on their magnificent Hex album. Indeed the presence of a women’s choir on Big Church and the use of brass instrumentation on Hunting And Gathering and Alice bring new sounds to the Sunn O))) sonic palette.
The addition of strings and brass has nearly rendered the grinding guitar of Sunn O))), as was, obsolete. This time around the fact that it’s stupendously heavy is merely a signifier that this is a Sunn O))) album, as the new facets of the band have taken centre stage. The aforementioned women’s choir is one such example, but the strings and horns that close the final track Alice are majestic. Sunn O))) have spread their wings fully now (and after Altar, the stunning collaboration with Boris you always suspected they would) and are moving further away from being described as a band who simply play slow heavy riffs.
If anything, Sunn o))) are in danger of becoming a neo-classical act. The final seven or eight minutes suggest they’ve been checking out pastoral symphonies and cramming a lot of Gorecki into their ears. No longer reliant on bombast, they are allowing orchestration to take the lead, and it works beautifully.
Hopefully this record will get listened to, despite no promos being available, for not only is Monoliths & Dimensions a heavy record, it is dense with ideas and concepts too. As such it requires time and exploration. It’s a brave record that really does deserve the praise being heaped upon it.
However, due to the distinctly avant garde nature of Sunn O))), this is likely the kind of album that many people will buy, listen to for five minutes (which as far as Sunn O))) are concerned relates to one note) and then display in their record collection as a mark of their awesome credibility. If they were to store it next to an unread copy of Camus’ The Outsider they’d get double points.