Sonic titans Sunn O))) return with their ninth full length album (the first of two due to be released this year) and the first album they’ve produced with Anderson and O’Malley as sole composers since the release of 2015’s ‘Kannon’ – this is in every essence a true Sunn O))) release (with a few guest contributions scattered here and there). In the world of metal and experimental music as a whole, the duo receive as much criticism as they do adoration, with the most scathing comments claiming that most of their back catalogue could be produced by anyone with a guitar and a loud enough amp – these critics lack the patience required to appreciate and understand the soundscapes created by Greg and Stephen. Stephen O’Malley is especially skilled at creating enormous atmospheres out of minimalist instrumentation, having spent several years recreating the works of composer Alvin Lucier – famed for his exploration of acoustic phenomena and auditory perception. If you’ve ever attended a Sunn O))) gig and felt like you’re being slowly hypnotised or are about to fall over, the tiny musical nuances employed by O’Malley’s learnings of Lucier’s compositions will be why.
‘Between Sleipnir’s Breaths’ provides an absolutely breath taking opener for ‘Life Metal’, with the echoing drone punctuated by the delicate voice of Icelandic cellist and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir reciting Aztec poetry. Composer Anthony Pateras lends his pipe organ to ‘Troubled Air’ creating a startling and almost sinister feeling as the album reaches its halfway mark – most shocking to note is that this record only just breaches the 60-minute mark – almost an EP in the world drone. Silkworm’s Tim Midyett produces void-shattering shockwaves with his aluminium-neck bass, alongside T.O.S. Nieuwenhuizen’s electronic contributions on ‘Aurora’ – a definite album highlight. Guðnadóttir makes a second appearance for closer ‘Novae’, adding the unwavering hum of her cello to this 25-minute long colossus.
‘Life Metal’ is an absolute triumph for Sunn O))), enhanced further by having been produced by the infamous Steve Albini – the master of all things loud – it’s as though they’re dragging their fingers down the guitar strings within millimetres of your ear. For audiophiles and drone fans alike, this opus is essential listening. It’s goose bump inducing, gripping and an elegant dismissal of all those who have disregarded them with the label “joke band”.
(9/10 Angela Davey)