The Rickety Old Shack

Sunn O))) — Kannon

Sunn O))) - Kannon, cover

Even out on the fringes of metal, there exist acts, like Sunn O))), who manage to push the definition of "music" to its most extreme configurations. In contrast to grindcore — and anyone else sporting 100mph songs — we have ambient doom of the highest (lowest?) order. A long-running project of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, merchants of self-described "mood music for the emotionally dead" offer up their latest album with Kannon.

Divided into three parts, Kannon opens with a droning, low guitar hum. The sound slowly ebbs and flows as guttural vocal ... noises — for lack of a better term — reverberate against a background of feedback and slow, dissonant guitar. Absent drums, or any sense of time-keeping, "Kannon 1" sets the pace for the remainder of the record — a pulsing, slow, dirge of the damned. This is Sunn O))), after all; Kannon is a slow-building affair, an exercise in extreme drone and caustic, ambient soundscapes.

Low, distorted, droning chords ceaselessly hum in the background; restrained bass lines fade in and out of a feedback-heavy mix of unsettling guitars. Lyrically, Kannon is a sparse offering; broken, single-sentence refrains — straddling the line between incoherence and demented poetry — are scarcely strewn across what is largely an instrumental record. Grim, foreboding chants give "Kannon 2" a feel of escalating creepiness, as the feedback and furtive guitars become more intricate — in context — as the album progresses.

"Kannon 3" stands separate from the other two tracks; though no less coherent in the context of the album itself, the final track distinguishes itself as the more "energetic" entry on the record. Keeping all things in context, that we're dealing with an ambient, drone band that plays in the neighbourhood of 10bpm, "Kannon 3" features a faster-moving wave of dissonant guitar and plunging bass. The chanting from the previous track returns, tying the piece into the prior sections, and progresses the listener to the finale — a churning, pained, feedback heavy crescendo of dementia. It sounds a little grandiose, but there is an expert craft to this record, even if, at first glance, it sounds like someone left their guitar too close to a live amp — while someone coughed up a lung and died in the background.

In light of the ultimately disappointing collaboration with Ulver, on the Terrestrials release, Sunn O))) return with a better offering this time out. Kannon is composed of older material, spanning multiple different sessions that spawned other releases, but the record still feels like a cohesive piece of music. Yes, it's a distinctly bizarre genre; there's no denying the inherent inaccessibility of a group like Sunn O))), but for patient listeners — ideally those with a willingness to take a gamble with their time — this group delivers the goods.

As a fan of Sunn O))) since their earliest material, I have never been truly let down by a release. Terrestrials was underwhelming, but had its merits; I thought it was a little too minimalistic; but as a whole, Sunn O))) have produce a lot of interesting, albeit bizarre music. As with its predecessors, Kannon occupies a very narrow, unique musical niche; this is the sort of record you throw on when you're either doing absolutely nothing, or you need a soundtrack to something mentally demanding and need something unobtrusive, yet twisted. Kannon is vintage Sunn O))) though it does present the very real question of the project's long-term viability.

Thus far, Sunn O))) have managed to keep things relatively interesting; I wish they collaboration with Ulver had hewed closer to their work than Sunn O)))'s but I wasn't shocked that it didn't. Regardless, I've enjoyed every release from this project for what it is; a sort of anti-music that challenges the active listener — and seemingly rewards the passive one. Kannon is a solid release from a group which I routinely, and positively refer to as "thinking music." Without intending to sound pretentious, Sunn O))) are an odd experience, but worthwhile if you're willing to put in the effort to sit through their material give it the requisite amount of attention.

Summary

As I mentioned, I've been a proponent of Sunn O))) for a very long time. I picked up OO Void shortly after its release, and have followed their work — and offshoots such as Khanate — with baited breath ever since learning of the group. As bizarre and unconventional as their work may be, I find the craft of their albums quite interesting; the slow, droning build to the material — mixed with black metal tinged 'vocals' — makes for a unique soundtrack. A soundtrack I find myself engaging on a routine basis, whether I'm toiling away at the office or working on something at home. I would not classify myself as emotionally dead, but "mood music" isn't far off from how I categorise this group. Kannon is illustrative of everything that makes Sunn O))) what it is; if you find this record tedious, you will have a similar opinion of the rest of their work. I found Kannon enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable, given the niche the project inhabits.

Album Information

Release date: December 4th, 2015
Record label: Southern Lord Recordings

Attila Csihar — voice
Stephen O'Malley — guitar
Greg Anderson — bass, guitar

Track Listing

  1. Kannon 1
  2. Kannon 2
  3. Kannon 3

—by Derek

Published: December 15, 2015