Mentioning the name of the band Sunn O))) among a group of music friends serves as a litmus test yielding myriad telling results. Some will cry “over-hyped hipster noise,” others will react with studied reverence, and others still will just shrug, call them “Sunn-oh” and say they don’t get it.
For me, references to Sunn O))) provokes a visceral response. My mind immediately soars to a sonic place devoid of human life and empty of feeling and emotion. It is neither good nor bad. It is just is. It’s a good place to go when life seems overwhelming. I wonder if this is the desired outcome of listening to Sunn O))), if they care at all about how affecting their music can be.
In reviewing the group’s most recent effort, Kannon, I decided to refresh myself with the band’s discography. I didn’t realize this group had so many recordings. Their last published works included separate collaborations with Scott Walker and Ulver, both released in 2014. They had a couple of demos. Why does a band that has been around for sixteen years have or need demos? They also had another band remaster their second album. Why? I am most familiar with their studio recordings Monoliths & Dimensions (2009) and Black One (2005), so I decided to use these albums as the benchmarks for Kannon. I knew I was probably setting the bar unfairly high.
Although Kannon was composed in the shadow of Monoliths & Dimensions, the recording presents more like a mainstream listener’s guide to Sunn O))) 101. It neatly distills some of the concepts and principles of the immersive type of listening experience that the band has more expertly crafted in earlier recordings. Comprised of three movements, the songs clock in at manageable lengths between nine and thirteen minutes, which are relatively short when compared to the band’s more epic works such as my favorite, “Alice,” from their 2009 release. The duo focuses strongly on melodic, chanted vocalizations layered over droning and repeated riffs, and they bring in vocals from Mayhem’s Attila Csihar. I like Attila’s vocals in virtually anything, so that was a plus. There’s also the required dose of feedback and orchestrated chaos.
I have listened to Kannon multiple times, in different places, and at different times of day. For some bands, thirty-six minutes of music is about all the average listener can handle. This happens to be the actual length of my daily commute to work, so I like to find albums that are about that long. But each time I played through Kannon, it seemed to end before it got started, and not in a good way—not in a way that made me want more. Everything about this recording seems unfinished, cursory, and superficial. Droneus interuptus, as it were.
I would not put Sunn O))) on any list of my favorite groups, but given certain circumstances, I find myself wanting to revisit the music of Black One or Monoliths & Dimensions. Their music serves a practical purpose for me, unlike a lot of the black metal or death metal to which I am typically drawn. At their best, listening to Sunn O))) wipes my mental and emotional slate clean and causes me to focus more deeply on whatever it is I need to concentrate on. In the realm of musical meditation and medication, Sunn O))) can be the masters. Sadly, I don’t think I will find myself drawn back to using Kannon for this purpose. I predict, however, that in our world of ever-decreasing attention spans, thirty-six minutes of half-hearted highlights from the dynamic duo of ambient drone might be exactly the type of initiation a new Sunn O))) listener needs. Perhaps it will lead them to delve deeper into the group’s meatier tracks on previous recordings. More than likely, it won’t.
01) Kannon 1
02) Kannon 2
03) Kannon 3