Monoliths & Dimensions
posted on 7/2009 By:
One thing is for certain; whatever the hell this band is doing, they’re doing it right. Ever since their full-length debut in 2000, Sunn O)))’s role in the metal world has continued to rise from interesting oddballs to unquestionable scene leaders. The unexpected surge in prominence of drone doom we’ve seen in the last couple of years is almost entirely due to Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s willingness to take the style in new directions and involve musicians from all across the underground music spectrum, and the band’s surprising crossover appeal (even garnering some attention in non-metal press) is evidence of the fact.
With that said, reviewing a new Sunn O))) disc is akin to giving a friend a detailed description of a common sidewalk pebble; aside from some minor if notable discrepancies, the core formula is going to be basically the same. As drone is an extremely narrow style by nature, its been Sunn O)))’s ability to stay true to the roots of their genre while implementing a myriad of experimental elements that has allowed them to keep their fans interested over the course of six full-length efforts and a plethora of EPs and live albums. As such, Monoliths & Dimensions (now there’s a perfect title if I’ve ever heard one) features a number of qualities that separate it from past outings, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who doesn’t “get” this kind of music is going to suddenly cross over.
“Aghartha” opens the curtains (slowly of course) with a deep wash of ominous drone chords, chillingly narrated by one Atilla Csihar (who makes a brilliant return performance) in a repetitive trance until it feels like you’re doomed to hear his morbid croaks floating through your head long after the album is over. While the ambient guitars are suitably dark and menacing, its Atilla’s unusual vocalizations that really steal the spotlight in this opening track, and things only get more unsettling as you fall further down the rabbit hole. “Big Church” and “Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)” both take the massive sonic weight that forms Sunn O)))’s base and guide it into strange new territories through the use of eerie, dissonant choral chants (“Big Church”) and grandiose orchestral support (“Hunting and Gathering”). Both of these songs are great examples of O’Malley and Anderson’s ability to layer the outside instrumentation into the drone and not just stack the layers on top of one another, and the effect this union has on the listener’s psyche is simply incomparable to the vast majority of bands a metal fan is likely to encounter.
While Monoliths is hardly a routine run up until this point, its not until the final track that Sunn O))) really throw us for a loop. After the suffocating atmosphere and almost unbearable tension precipitated by the first three tracks, the shimmering “Alice” lets it all unwind in a stirring, melodic epic of modern-day Earth-like proportions. Sunn O))) has traded some of their heaviness for sparse atmospherics in the past (such as the bizarre “bassAliens” on White2), but they’ve never pulled it off so effectively, and the relaxing nature of this track is an ideal contrast to the draining dreariness of the preceding songs. The use of horns and saxophone is especially surprising near the track’s conclusion, and even more startling is how natural these instruments actually sound in the context of Sunn O)))’s work here. Truth be told, “Alice” almost sounds like it could be coming from a different band entirely, and it concludes the album with an ambiance far removed from any previous recording by the project.
And this is where I come to something of a crossroads regarding this album. While many of you will love Monoliths & Dimensions for the disturbing twists it offers on the drone formula, just as many of you will be left feeling confused at this album’s almost schizophrenic pacing. For all the unusual and disorienting elements mixed into this record, it kind of feels like the actual drone is serving more of a supporting role; its there, of course, but it feels less noteworthy. This may seem like a ridiculous notion, given how inherently one-dimensional the basic framework of drone is, but Monoliths just feels lacking in some of that howling, desolate blackness that made albums like ØØ Void and the monumental Black One so utterly unique and compelling. The atmosphere is still there in full, but it feels more due to all the extra ingredients that have been added than the main component itself. It’s a shift that will probably go unnoticed by casual fans of the project, but its hard to shake the feeling that the increased experimentation seen on this album (as well as the Altar collaboration with Boris) is serving as a hint to the fact that Anderson and O’Malley may be tiring of the stylistic template they’ve helped to popularize.
Regardless, I can’t judge this album for its intent, only for its execution. And while Monoliths and Dimensions does feel somewhat more “out of character” than past outings, it's still unquestionably one of the most oppressive and unusual albums you’ll hear this year, and stands as a worthy entry in Sunn O)))’s extensive catalog. Time will tell what direction this enigmatic collective will ultimately decide to take themselves, but as of now these guys are still operating miles ahead of the bell curve, and anyone who values the expansive wonders of the drone world would be well advised to experience this bizarre work of sonic art as soon as possible.
Register to post comments.