PICK OF THE WEEK: Sunn O))) reveal lighter elements, maintain thick drone darkness with ‘Life Metal’

There are endless reasons people listen to music. It can be used as stimulation. It can calm one down after a period of tumult. It can get one’s excitement level up for an activity or a task or a mission or what have you. It’s literally there for every reason one could possibly imagine, and one of those means are wholly right or wholly wrong for anyone.

Then there’s the element of sound worship, albeit one of the weirder, at-arms-length causes for musical enjoyment for people, and the members of that group tend to stand out a bit from the rest. Same goes for those who make music that’s meant to be absorbed into your pores and driven though your central nervous system, and if you guessed it’s time to talk the latest creation from drone lords Sunn 0))), you’re right on the money. “Life Metal” is the band’s eighth full-length record, following 2015’s “Kannon,” and it also marks the band’s 20th anniversary together under this moniker—the Sunn 0))) name took shape in 1998 after the band spent two years as Mars. Its primary creators Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have created some of the densest, loudest, most fearsome heavy music known to humankind, and it’s literally the definition of “not for everyone” when it comes to appeal. For those who worship at their massive walls of amps, there’s nothing like this band, and there’s truly nothing in the band’s catalog quite like “Life Metal.” Recorded over two weeks with producer Steve Albini, these four tracks maintain the group’s dense black backbone, but there also are some of their most vibrant, even positive sounds ever captured before. The duo (they’re joined by a small group of other players on this record, though Attila Csihar is absent from the proceedings this time around) also took time to celebrate their two decades together and create something truly special, music that creeps inside the soul and stays.

“Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” begins with a wild horse whinnying before the drone curtain drops heavily, and the riffs begin to scrape away at the earth. Weird rays of light poke through the thick surface, as Hildur Guðnadóttir’s voice settles in, singing verses culled from ancient poetry, giving the track an added dose of haunting secrecy. Hints of melody break through in tiny streams through the enormous dam of sound, and an illuminated section of playing is met with more singing from Guðnadóttir, as sounds sting and cause imbalance, fog blankets, and that horse returns to call out again. “Troubled Air” trembles in light, chimes ring at perfectly spaced intervals, and melody rises above the murk. Noises act like lasers, slicing the thick noise cloud in sections while the void continues to add mass, and a heat ray makes living nearly impossible. Composer Anthony Pateras adds organs and other sounds to thicken the fear, while the track continues to swell, the atmospheric pressure topples, and the engine bristles to the very end.

“Aurora” runs a healthy 19 minutes and opens with deranged moans that give way to the guitars entering and centering the body. The riffs apply abrasion and add to the grimy boil that’s slowly collecting, while the doom laps in waves, noises pierce the flesh, and impossible weight gathers on your chest, making breathing an anxiety-ridden chore. Guitars then sound like they’re steel swords clashing, the sounds tangle, and eardrums shake, no matter your headphone volume. Monstrous 25:22 “Novae” closes the proceedings as the ignition charges and Tim Midyett’s bass coils and strikes, lurching underneath the punishment. Riffs then lap and threaten safety as the weather system gets gnarlier, and a black storm rains down with merciless fury. Another fog, this one pitch black, envelops, and then things subside, letting Guðnadóttir’s scratch out the next few minutes, establishing a rustic, yet also timeless quiver. The sound builds itself back up again slowly, buzzing and adding heat, riffs moving mountains, the noises making your head swell as the sun spits red before the track releases its hold.

Sunn 0)))’s impact and effect on heavy music cannot be overstated, and the work they put into “Life Metal” gives the band rays of positivity you don’t often get from their music. If you’ve never seen the band in a live setting, definitely change that, and be prepared for your entire body to vibrate and pulsate as their might and volume crush your organs (I’m only slightly exaggerating). These four songs are revelations that unveil new pathways, added beams of light that help you understand Sunn 0))) in a way you probably never considered before.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/life-metal/

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

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