You're standing in a great, smoky hall. A procession of hooded figures slowly glides toward the stage. They lurk menacingly behind a barricade of amplifiers like a counsel of warlocks in wait. There are a few long moments of tense, tangible silence until suddenly, BRMMMMM!—seismic waves of the most pulverizing, sub-sonic guitar sludge ever heard. This is the sound of the earth being born and the sound of it dying. This is Sunn 0))).
Since their simple origins in 1998 when metal-gurus Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson began meeting and "decided to run all of the amplifiers at once," Sunn 0))) has built a rabid cult following and evolved into world-renowned icons of the drone-music genre.
You may be asking yourself, "Why would I want to subject myself to this?"—and that's a perfectly fair question. What Sunn 0))) can offer to the willing is full-body catharsis: an unparalleled physical experience that would kick the shit out of a Pink Floyd laser show any day of the week. Sunn 0))) has managed a more successful approximation of a man-made black hole than the physics department at Stanford could ever muster. This is primeval, molasses-thick DOOM that literally rattles your bones and rumbles your bowels. (No seriously, it's been known to happen!).
In case you haven't left your room or turned on the TV lately, we're in the thick of a cultural tug-o-war, where the volume is always at 11 and every media crony and aspiring artist is desperately upping the ante to try and grasp a moment of our attention. Within this, Sunn 0))) feels like the ultimate outbreak and antidote. They are both less and more. Prophetic minimalists and bold maximalists, Sunn 0))) can very loosely be classified as a rock band. Their one or two note "songs" are not songs per se, and the unadventurous might even question calling what they do music.
"The entire entity of Sunn O))) is a personal ritual," explains O'Malley. The real power behind their self-made mythos lies not so much in the music, but in this ritual and its intent. Anderson and O'Malley have sought to create the darkest monolithic sound known to man, and I'll be damned if they haven't succeeded.
They say you can't catch lightning in a bottle, and likewise it's been difficult to capture the power of the Sunn on record. Even with a couple grand to blow on a new stereo system, very thick wax, and some especially tolerant neighbors, it's unlikely that you could recreate the super-charged cocoon of Sunn 0)))'s live performance with their records alone. That said, the band's new Southern Lord full-length Black One succeeds in bumping things up a considerable notch from previous releases. The record, partially due to its guttural augmentations by power electronics maven John Wiese, is being widely hailed as their finest, speaker-rupturing release to date.
Still, the difference between these recordings and the corporeal pummeling of the live ritual is like being in the eye of a hurricane versus watching it on CNN. Be there, close your eyes, and submit yourself to the dark communion of Sunn 0))). You know you want to.