Drone doom legends Sunn 0))) bring more light and mercy to their massive power on ‘Kannon’

Photo by Peter Beste

Photo by Peter Beste

It seems like the era of truly legendary bands is slowly passing. Each decade that precedes this one, there had been a slew of artists who created their own thing and carved their own paths into history for disciples to follow and potentially build upon for the future. As time has passed, and art has been watered down and marginalized, the idea of these types of artists has fallen by the wayside.

If that’s true and legends are dying out, Sunn 0))) may be one of the final of a passing breed. If you’re into heavy music, especially that of the underground variety, you know Sunn 0))). If you don’t and you claim to have knowledge, you are wrong and have years of study ahead of you. Growing from the drone influence of Earth, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson created one of the most unique, influential bands in the world, and as time has gone on, the group has morphed, at times darkened heavily, and continued to be a monstrous force at which to marvel. Generally you either love or hate this band, with little in between, because their dark, cataclysmic sounds either resonate with you or they do not. Because of that, people who genuflect at their altar tend to be fervent in their adulation and deem this band one of the most important in their personal musical DNA. I know that I, as a mere scribe, certainly feel that way. Also, as par for the course, Sunn 0))) have brought in multiple players to be a part of the record, from Attila Csihar (also of Mayhem, who is now their regular vocalist), Steve Moore (Zombi), Oren Ambarchi, and Rex Ritter.

Sunn coverWord passed a few months back that the band would close out the final month of 2015 with a new album “Kannon,” their first full-length studio effort since 2009’s incredible, path-changing “Monoliths & Dimensions.” Since that time, Sunn 0))) have put out smaller efforts, a giant stack of live albums, and two stunning collaborations: one with Ulver, the other with Scott Walker. Now, six years after “Monoliths,” the influence of their outside musical partners seem to have bled into their work. “Kannon,” which is centered on aspects of Buddhism, most notably the deity Guanyin Bodhisattva, known as the goddess of mercy (for a full explanation, check out the expansive liner notes written by Aliza Shvartz). This focus seems to have lightened the band’s touch, added some glimmers of hope, and let them spend less time bludgeoning with thick power and concentrating on different energies. It’s not an immediate Sunn 0))) album (if one of those even exists), as it took me multiple listens to fully embrace this, with several experiences with the vinyl version finally acting as my breakthrough.

“Kannon I” starts the record with lighter, glimmering tones, stretching out and creating a serene ambiance. Creaky grumbles slip beneath the surface, with melodies hovering and a remaining warm and spacey atmosphere hovering. Those weird hums remain in place, with wooshy, foggy sound blankets being pulled over, beams of light shooting from the murk, and feedback wailing and subsiding. “Kannon II” opens with a dose of threatening noise, with drone scraping, the dueling guitar and bass tones reverberating, and chant-like singing spilling over that feels almost liturgical. The sounds smother and spread, with smoke continuing to rise and block out the serenity, and feedback bubbles out of that and hardens on the surface. Cataclysmic drama unfolds from all of this, as the fury slips into noise and fades into the distance.

“Kannon III” has feedback returning and spitting, with noise and drone charging, and Csihar bellowing boldly over this, sounding almost like a pained ghost. He lurches along and later dissolves into furious growls, as eerie chants sweep into the scene and bring a chill, and the music hits a steamy simmer. The growls and shrieks return to menace, sounding terrifying, while the guitars begin to glow, noises trail off behind everything, and the track, as well as the record, comes to an abrupt end. It’s not a terribly long record, as you might have deciphered (it’s 33:25 long), which is something that feels a little strange. It just seems to so brief, especially when compared to Sunn 0))) records of the past, though that’s not necessarily a negative.

Sunn 0)) never seem to stay in one place for very long, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve remained so influential and vital. “Kannon” takes some warming up to, for sure, and it isn’t as thick and foreboding as their past work. It’s something different and a little foreign for the band, and while the skeleton is recognizable, the flesh that’s grown around it is different. I’m curious to see where this record places in the band’s, well, canon as the years go by. It certainly stands out among their other creations and takes you on a totally different trip.

For more on the band, go here: http://sunn.southernlord.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/