Boris and Sunn O))) - Altar
11.14.06 Southern Lord by Keith Boyd
I prefer to live my life directly without the safety net of detached irony. There is so much more flavor to be imbibed from our experiences when we approach them with openness and enthusiasm. This isn't to say I often miss the forest for the trees. I'd like to think my bullshit detector is in pretty good working order. I simply refuse to let a gauze of aloof hipness tell me what to enjoy and how to enjoy it.
As a teacher of children with significant developmental disabilities I spend most of my days surrounded by people for whom the world is vastly confusing and overwhelming place. However, my students constantly surprise me with the wonder they find in the simple and everyday. The sheer physical delight they take in a cold breeze or the feel of sand is both humbling and inspirational. When they experience anger or terror the same emotional directness is apparent. Their example is instructive and helps inform my reaction to things I encounter. I'm not saying that mental challenges are a pre-requisite to having genuine aesthetic experiences. I would however say that a letting down of one's guard and a greater acceptance of things as they present themselves is a good start.
All too often music writers are looking for a "hook" on which to hang their story. This hook is usually informed by a host of external material. While this is an inevitable process there are influences, that when followed, betray an intellectual laziness and herd mentality. There are press-releases, other reviews and a blind subscription to "backlash" instincts. Once a band has been around long enough, the talking heads all chime in how they're over, they're parodying themselves and how this latest music isn't as good as the last thing they put out. Having read a few reviews I'm starting to pick up this vibe in the critical response to SunnO))) and their amazing new collaboration with Boris, "Altar".
I've been enjoying the heavy and swollen sound of SunnO))) since the first blackened minutes of "The Grimrobe Demos". In the ensuing years I've heard them expand and perfect their scary sound pressure waves into Tsunami like powerhouses. Along the way they have experimented with adding various textures, synthesizers , Black Metal vocalizations and opaque melodies. Their latest disc is an amazingly successful collaboration with Japanese noise and sound mongers Boris. This team up is a drone-heads fantasy and the two bands create a friction that serves as a whet stone to sharpen each of their better impulses.
First of all there is simply the sonic density on offer. Each track is layered with intense amounts of information and this imparts a new richness to complement the pulverization we've come to expect from both of these units. Next there is the 3 rd track, "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)". I'll guarantee you; you've not heard anything like this before. The melancholy and sweet vocals of Jesse Sykes bring to mind a hint of Mogwai or a stab of Massive Attack but the backing music is yet again a perfect distillation of the Boris/SunnO))) equation. The wonder here is the subtle yet powerful melody line. If this were all it would be enough to make this an essential purchase but there is still so much more. I've never taken SunnO)))'s super slowed down "Metalisms" as simply ironic commentary. It seems to me that spending all the years and all of the effort to create the "thing" that is this band as an elaborate joke would be beneath these artists and a waste of time. Rather I view their nuanced and overt trappings as a refinement of the essentials of Heavy Metal. The robes, the slower than frozen and poisonous molasses riffs, the smoke and the over the top song titles are an ultimate statement about how heavy, heavy can be. Sure there's a bit of humor mixed in. If there wasn't it would be hard to take the serious stuff, well, seriously. I still tend to think of the overall impact and intent as disassociate, ritualistic and deeply psychedelic. Rather than being an elaborate send up of metal, SunnO))) are inheritors to a long artistic tradition including John Cage, La Monte Young, Tony Conrad and yes Mayhem, Dark Throne and Earth. "Altar" is the latest fruit from this unfolding. It's rich in the ringing overtones and harmonics we're familiar with from both groups and still the new directions explored are all interesting and furthering to their sounds.
When listening remember to turn off the lights, cast your magick circle, roll your eyes back in your head and crank it up. Because as SunnO))) often says on their album covers, "Maximum Volume Achieves Maximum Results".