This Sunn O))) Article was written by Chris Hobbs, a Gigsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.
Sunn O))) have one of metal’s most diverse and interesting back-catalogues. Principally a guitar duo, O’Malley and Anderson collaborate with a wide variety of international, experimental musicians. Most commonly pinned as a doom metal group, the bands work is unified by their inclination toward long structures, heavily detuned guitars and drone elements in metal music.
‘Kannon’ is a three part piece, exploring the relationship between extreme metal and ritual Buddhist chanting. Buddhist music often serves as an inspiration for drone music, providing structure and harmonic progression, as well as elements of transcendence.
In ‘Kannon Pt. 1’, while the use of feedback and repetitive, simple harmonic structures seemed to gel nicely with its more esoteric influences, the attack of the distorted guitar riffs seemed to stick out, making them unnecessarily focal. But, as the piece progresses, there is more and more to like about it. The resonance of distortions swell, not unlike Tambura drones found in Indian classical music, creating points of reference in introspection and meditation. The vocals creak almost mechanically in timbre, taking inspiration from chant music’s throat singing, before tailing off sinisterly in a raspy reverb.
‘Kannon Pt. 2’ employs its influences more congruently with metal tropes. The heavy opening riff occupies most of the first two minutes, then accompanies a thick, tonal chant. Once again, chant elements feel at home here, even if the contrast between the vocal techniques of this piece and the first initially feel a little stark. This piece is somewhat reminiscent of pieces chanted over the Tibetan long horn, but fused with the extreme, distorted low guitars that we have come to expect from Sunn O))). The ending to this track is also particularly remarkable, immediately dropping the rich drone in favour of a subtle emptiness.
‘Kannon Pt. 3’ opens with dissonant swells of feedback and interference, before settling into the tremors of low bass and the chime of high guitar. While still drenched in distortion, the more subtle introduction of materials has a somewhat meditative feel to it, helped by the rich overtones of the chanted backing. The ending of this piece feels a little abrupt and it might have been nicer to have the materials fade, rather than just stop.
‘Kannon’ grows through repeated listening, not so much in that it reveals new layers of intricacy and details on each listen, but more that the collision of two sound worlds is more and more convincing each time. For an album of its type, I found each song to be remarkably distinct. While the guitars are a little overbearing in much of this album, it fails to stop it from being a unique and rewarding take on the music that inspired it.
While initially the riffs may feel a bit more invasive and the release lacks the immediate impression of ‘Altar’ or ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’, given a little time it is amazing just how much ‘Kannon’ gives back.