When you reach for the very edges of extreme music, if you’re a seeker of louder, increasingly intense sounds that pulsate through your body, you inevitably end up at Sunn O))). Not just because of their notoriously loud live shows, but because they have been a consistent force in the blending of drone music and metal since they popularized the genre. With this year’s Life Metal, it seems like they have truly met their peak of popularity and accessibility.
With the success of Life Metal, the duo and constantly shifting cast of live collaborators has toured tirelessly, destroying ears and making knees weak night after night. The new companion piece, Pyroclasts, released October 25 on Southern Lord, is made up of ritualistic drones that were recorded during the sessions of the first record.
Stephen O’Malley, Greg Anderson, and a cast of studio collaborators featuring composer and múm member Hildur Guðnadóttir, T.O.S., and Tim Midyett, who were invited to participate in a ritualistic drone timed for 12 minutes at the beginning and end of the studio work day. Tracked on two-inch tape, the result is Pyroclasts.
And this result is a raw, spiritual dive into living and playing in the moment. It feels more urgent and larger than some of the band’s records. It gives life and squashes it. The record is perhaps some of the most active work by Sunn O))). It doesn’t waste time. After all, there was a limit on how much time the ensemble had to reach that sweet spot of transcendence.
Frost (C), the opening track, is all guitars. Only after eleven minute intro and halfway through Kingdoms (G) do you hear a different plucked string instrument and some background vocals from Guðnadóttir. There are actually higher octave chords and high notes that evoke triumph. Whatever imperfections there are would be covered by the blissful tone and volume.
The third track, Ampliphædies (E) doesn’t let up. It seems louder than the previous two, but it calms as the guitars drone on for what feels like forever. Finally the high buzzing of Ascension (A) gives way to some of the warmest drones on the album and closes with some of the most piercing sounds. There is some track clipping in the last track, an imperfection the band was forced to be okay with in the spirit of acceptance and living in the moment. The feedback rings and bends gloriously, incessantly. It stops time in a timed scenario.
Recorded on the same tape in Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio, there is an inextricable connection between the two records. You can feel that it is the same room; you can hear the same guitar tones and amplifiers. It exists as a “shadow album” of its predecessor. Mastering was done by Matt Colton with an all-analog, AAA process, and you can hear it in the depth and warmth of the recordings. It is also mastered louder than many of the Sunn O))) records, which makes it pop.
One thing the listener longs for is to hear the details of some of the guest players who sometimes get lost under the guitar drones. Still, the subtleties and nuances of the guitar work jump to the forefront.
The production of the record is perhaps the most reflective of their live show. Loud. Intense. In your face. Like S/M, it forces you to acquiesce. Seeing Sunn O))) on their tour supporting Life Metal, there were 14 full-stack amplifiers, more than anybody could ever need. No amp faltered to the gargantuan sound. The sound permeates the body, through the spine, into the knees. If you don’t wear earplugs, you are forced to cover your ears at times for fear that an eardrum will bust and that you will irreparable damage to you hearing. Earplugs or not, when you leave, your ears ring, and the drone reverberates through your body like an om. A meditation.
And that’s what this record is. It called for the players to immerse themselves in the moment, the space they were creating in, and the people they were playing with, all while freeing the creativity and spirituality within their minds. It demanded their full attention, and it should have yours.