The Rickety Old Shack

Sunn O))) — Pyroclasts

album cover

Not long after the release of the band's 7th full-length record, Life Metal (review), drone pioneers Sunn O))) announced another album in Pyroclasts. Described as a recording of regular, daily sessions the group held during the production of Life Metal, this album is a live performance of material inspired by its predecessor. Unlike the vast majority of follow-up albums, Pyroclasts was conceived in tandem with its predecessor, and provides something best described as a companion record.

Interestingly, I did not gravitate to Life Metal nearly as much as this new offering. While I found Life Metal to be a good effort — with no glaring flaws or failed concepts — it was also a very familiar-sounding record. Pyroclasts, likewise, does not push the Sunn O))) sound or formula forward, however the material on this album resonates a lot more strongly. Both albums feature 4 tracks, though Pyroclasts is significantly shorter, clocking in at exactly 44 minutes — as the performance was timed with a stopwatch — compared to Life Metal's 70-minute running time.

Each track, or 'movement' on Pyroclasts is 11 minutes in duration, and they all flow seamlessly into one another. The bulk of the first 2 cuts, "Frost (C) +" and "Kingdoms (G) -" are very stripped-down affairs, featuring a very slowly building wall of unwavering, droning guitar. As the record progresses, intermittent waves of bass weave in and out of the background, flourishes of feedback begin to assert themselves more and more as "Ampliphædies (E) º" transitions into the closer, "Ascension (A) ¨." The final minutes of the album coalesce into a not-quite-climax — there is no resolution of the tension built over the preceedng 40+ minutes. The consistent, droning hum of guitars never wavers until the very end, when it fades out in about 3 seconds. Somehow, this doesn't feel abrupt; Pyroclasts feels exactly as long as it needed to be.

In spite of being another collection of very predictable work from Sunn O))), the combination of a much shorter running time and even more minimalistic sound palette ended up yielding a record I enjoyed a lot more than Life Metal. Both albums have a lot to digest, but Pyroclasts earns a lot of points for providing a thick, crushing wall of drone that flirts with losing my attention but never actually doing so. Furthermore, I felt compelled to re-listen to Pyroclasts a lot more than Life Metal, although it seems to have fulfilled its goal of inspiring the urge to revisit its predecessor.

Simply put: if you enjoy Sunn O))), this is a strong new addition to your collection. Pyroclasts can be enjoyed both as a companion to Life Metal as an entirely separate entity. In spite of this record's lack of experimentation, I find the concerns I had with Life Metal assuaged by this more concise offering.

Summary

Sunn O))) drop a companion album — and second full-length release this year — for their last effort, Life Metal. A live recording of a precisely regimented performance the band would practice each day during the recording of its predecessor, Pyroclasts is a shorter, more satisfying release and another batch of high-quality drone material. Sunn O))) will never be overly accessible, but for fans of drone and devotees of this legendary project, this is a release well worth your time.

Album Information

Release date: October 25th, 2019
Record label: Southern Lord Records

Greg Anderson — guitar
Stephen O'Malley — guitar, bass
TOS Nieuwenhuizen — synths
Hildur Guðnadóttir — cello, halldorophone
Tim Midyett — baritone guitar

Track Listing

  1. Frost (C) +
  2. Kingdoms (G) -
  3. Ampliphædies (E) º
  4. Ascension (A) ¨

Link: sunn.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: November 24th, 2019.