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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Sunn 0)))

White 1

Review by Mike Korn

Readers, it's pretty hard to describe what this album sounds like, but the term "music" is applied very loosely! I would not call it heavy metal either, though it is marketed through a mostly metal label. New Age would actually be closer to the mark but this is something that would cause the likes of Yanni and Kitaro to flee in horror. The truth is, Sunn 0))) have perhaps come up with the best description themselves: "doom power ambient drone invocation".

At first, I thought it was all a load of horse hockey. I listened to the 3 tracks on the 58-minute plus "White 1" opus and for the most part, I heard no real vocals, rhythms, riffs, melodies and very little drumming (there was some on "The Gates of Ballard"). Sunn's music (I'm going to dispense with the following symbols from here on out) is really ANTI-music but....it does create a profound and powerful reaction within the listener. The ultra-low sub-bass rumblings and noises create a bizarre sort of soundscape that almost forces you into a different state of awareness. In fact, as I listened to the monolithic "My Wall" in a completely darkened room with my eyes shut, I could swear that I was able to see with my eyes closed!

We cannot apply traditional musical values to this record. If you judge a record by the strength of its technical merits, this is a complete failure. If you judge it by its ability to create a completely surreal sonic landscape, it is much more successful. I can recommend this to only the most adventurous of listeners!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
My Wall
What an ungodly monolithic monstrosity this track is! Certainly the SLOWEST song ever recorded, it makes even the slowest doom metal like Electric Wizard and Grief sound like Slayer. And yet it casts a very strong spell. The first ten minutes features the British eccentric Julian Cope intoning some very bizarre stream of consciousness poetry over gradually mounting guitar sludge. Cope's babblings at first sound inane but on further listens, it's quite compelling and fits the song well. He speaks directly to the Sunn musicians: "Play your gloom axe, Stephen O'Malley/Sub bass ringing the sides of the valley/Sub bass climbing up each last ditch and combe/Greg Anderson, purvey a sonic doom." Once Cope's reading is done, the track becomes even heavier, plodding along with hideous malice. The riff pattern does exist here but it takes almost three full minutes for it to complete its cycle. The "tune" drones on and ends with total bass feedback cacophony at the 25-minute mark. Surely this was one of the most insane listening experiences I have had in my life.
The Gates of Ballard
Believe it or not, this is the most "normal" cut on the disc, and it is still completely berserk. We get a female voice chanting some sort of shamanic ditty over a bass rumble and then something approaching an actual riff appears. It is more like a frequency pulse than a riff...ultra-low frequency. But then actual drumming appears as well. The drumming seems to be programmed, and it follows some unusual patterns. The track alternates between that infrasonic pulse riff and just pure low-tuned noise. It, too, has a strong effect on the listener, as it trudges for 15 minutes plus.
A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You
Now this I just cannot comprehend, nor can I believe that anybody else will as well. Massive amounts of drugs must have been ingested to create this "tune", and certainly the only way you can get anything out of it is to mainline uncut heroin. There's no drumming or any attempt at a rhythm at all. You get 17 minutes of a phased bass tone with weirdly atonal guitar twanging over the top in no pattern that I can pick up. Now the press release mentioned a "vocal duet" on the tune with male and female voices. I couldn't hear it at first but I subjected myself to the track once more and, by God, you can hear some sort of vocal way in the background. The "male" vocals are the groaning of a thousand-year old living corpse while the "female" vocals are breathy gasps that can only barely be discerned. It boggles my mind that people actually perform this stuff. The first two cuts actually had a perverse power to them, but this one I just can't figure.

 
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