SunnO))) – Black One

Black One

Listening to Black One is similar to falling backwards into a deep dark pit. The air is hot and dank, and the stench is unbearable. You just know there’s something foul at the bottom of this abyss. Somewhere down below, a stinking, heaving behemoth of sound that doesn’t need form or context to swallow you whole awaits your fall into its iron jaws.

In the vast landscape of guitar-based noise music, SunnO))) now stands shoulder to shoulder with visionaries such as Earth and Fennesz. Its music unfolds in a manner not unlike staring at one of those magic eye posters. At first, all you see is a pattern, similarly with SunnO))) it sounds and feels like one low, long bass tone. Just like with the magic eye poster, upon closer inspection it appears that there is something else at work here. Subtle layers of sound reveal themselves to the patient listener. No longer content to be the Earth tribute band it started out as, SunnO))) stretches the limits of the usual duo with each new record by allowing guest appearances from notable musicians at the forefront of the avant-garde, noise, and metal scenes. “Sin Nanna” offers a contribution from experimental guitarist Oren Ambarchi. Both “Candlegoat” and “Bathory Erzsebet” contain vocals by Malefic of Xsathur/Twilight fame. John Weise of Bastard Noise is featured on “Orthodox Caveman.”

“Sin Nanna” is just a teaser, clocking it at just over two minutes, possibly the shortest SunnO))) track in existence. The brief ambient guitar composition operates like a subtle brush against the listener; it’s gentle but strong enough to knock you down into the lightless tunnel. “It Took the Night to Believe” follows this with the most familiar sound to SunnO))) fans: low-shifting bass notes that drift along slower than the crawl of time itself. The track starts abruptly and develops a pattern over its five-minute time span, with Leviathan of Wrest/Lurker of Chalice fame squealing in true black-metal fashion over the rumbling bass. Track three is a 10-minute long cover of Immortal’s “Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons” with Malefic on vocals bellowing a refrain, something that sounds like “cry yourself to ash.” Listeners familiar with Immortal’s version wouldn’t even know it’s the same song.

So far we’ve fallen into the lightless void, tumbling ever downward with no awareness that there is an end at all. By the time “Cry For the Weeper” ends its near 15-minute trek into the bleakest landscape of all, one becomes aware of an ominously funereal keyboard track that was underneath the subwoofer-destroying frequencies. All of this just in time for the glorious album closer, “Bathory Erzsebet,” named for Transylvanian royalty Elizabeth Bathory who is reputed to have slaughtered hundreds of young virgin girls and drank their blood in hopes that it would keep her young and beautiful. In what might be literally the most suffocating moment in the band’s history, “Bathory Erzsebet” has Malefic locked in a coffin with a microphone and placed in a hearse to record his vocals. The effect is dense and claustrophobic, as layer upon layer of guttural black noise is piled on top of the rotten corpse vocals. For a full 10 minutes, you’d swear that Death himself had crawled into the pit with you and sliced open your veins with a scythe, sucking the blood straight from the source until only your lifeless mangled form remained.

However unbelievable it may seem, with Black One, SunnO))) seems to have crafted a masterwork of sound sculpture. Topping all previous efforts both in intensity and creativity, Black One can only be the work of individuals thinking critically about the sounds they create, reflecting on them and working within the context of a genre where they continue to break new ground with each release. While it may seem easy to trivialize some components of the SunnO))) sound with ridiculous comparisons to all things evil and “heavy,” in reality the creators of such a beast have slaved long and hard in the studio to derive something new from the genre of metal, a genre which grows closer to a meeting with the Grim Reaper everyday through its own stagnant navel gazing.