For sixteen years, Sunn O))) have been challenging the way we think about music. In that relatively brief time, core members Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have forged connections between the worlds of Metal, Drone, Contemporary Composition, Jazz and Minimalism with startling results while remaining true to the eternal principles of volume, density and weight.
Sunn O))) are renowned for their no compromising live sets. I did not know if this was limited to their hometown of Seattle, Washington or if they pulled out all of the stops for all of their tours. So when I heard they were playing just down the road in Leeds I bought a brace of tickets and set off with Kathryn.
We descended the stairs to The Stylus and it became apparent that the band were pulling no punches. Despite getting there an hour before Sunn O))) were to step on stage we were met by a wall of dry ice as soon as we entered the main room. This artificial smoke was to be continuously pumped out throughout the live performance to the point that by the end of the gig we could hardly see the bar to our right, of which we were stood ten foot away from – let alone the group on stage. There was a thick fug – but we could make out most of their gear..
So, Atilla took the stage at around 2030 and started muttering incantations. The mans voice was amazing. The room was shaking (physically and atmospherically) to just the gruff growl of a satanic blessing – at least that is what I thought he was doing. It was a bit hard to make out with the smoke machines. Kathryn thought he was speaking in Elvish.
Then the Guitars started. And my what drone. To call it a musical feat would be belittling music and in turn be belittling the spectacle that we witnessed at the Stylus. To be so tight as a group as to know when exactly to play your note is something else – but it was more so with Sunn O))) as there was no beat or drummer yet could do just that. But there were smoke machines. From what we could make out through the fog, the members of the group were all clad in robes.
Was what we went to see? Music? Noise? Ah, an old debate. I’m comfortable saying it was music even though they played drawn out notes for forty seconds – it was tight and it was organised sound therefore I would describe it as music. The was the whole minimal/maximal thing going on and they pulled it off really well
But the volume! Hands down the loudest gig I have ever been to. The hair on my shorted legs was flapping about as the notes blurred and pulses into an overwhelming climax that saw Atilla have a outfit change so he re-appeared on the stage, dressed as what can only be described as Disco Sauron – with lasers shooting out of his mittens.
It was hard to make out the member’s of the group on stage – Atilla was lit up with a spot-light and had his own smoke machine bubbling away at his feet. Stephen O’Malley & Greg Anderson were only seen right at the end when the curtain call came. There was no encore – the Satanic Mass had ended and were released to go about our business. I think I saw Atilla waving a blade around in the fog – so, this could have been an actual ritual. If you know a bit more about the group than me then feel free to fill in the comments section and correct me.
It was easily the best gig I have been to – Kathryn echoed that sentiment too. It was completely overpowering. It was non-compromising. It was inspirational. Tomorrow, I will picking out my SUNN amp and dusting off my guitar – sod the poncy Jazz Guitar, Drone is what I want to do now.