Cry Yourself To Ash: Exploring The O)))verse (2005-2009)
|Written by:||RaduP, X-Ray Rod, Auntie Sahar|
Che: Welcome, fellow drone, ambient, and experimental music enthusiasts, or otherwise curious readers, to the much anticipated
Now here's where things get interesting. The mid-to-late 2000s was essentially the period where SOMA and Anderson began to both expand upon the haunting, brooding atmospheres established with Sunn O))) via new projects while also diverging into more mesmerizing and at times surprisingly relaxed areas with others. This intriguing duality yielded not only some of the strongest albums of either musician's catalogues, but also further cemented their reputations as highly versatile composers and multi instrumentalists.
Ginnungagap - Remeindre (2005)
Ginnungagap was a short lived Stephen O'Malley side project with English multi instrumentalist Alexander Tucker and vocalist Anthony Sylvester. It's ironic that the project was named after the cosmic void of Norse and Germanic mythology, as with the debut Remeindre the trio go for more of an opium fueled, hallucinatory trip through Central Asia. Utilizing Indian harmonium, tambura, and an array of other acoustic folk instruments, here Ginnungagap craft a stimulating, dream logic type realm of incense, bearded seers, and the primal, polytheistic faiths of old. At times Remeindre may lag a bit, with its various melodies and rhythms becoming a tad monotonous, but it does nonetheless serve as an interesting counterpart to some of the more bass heavy, metallic work SOMA had been doing previously, and also serves as fantastic meditation when the mood suits.
Che gives this one 3,5 / 5 Ravens
Khanate - Capture & Release (2005)
Coming up with a follow-up to the brilliantly twisted Things Viral could not have been an easy task. Khanate's sophomore record struck a perfect balance of crushing and isolating sludge/drone with an unnerving cloak of dark ambient. All things considered, Capture & Release is a logical evolution of Khanate's sound. Only two tracks but lasting over 40 minutes, this monolithic EP expands the abstract, shapeless form of the band's previous output while enhancing the drone and ambient elements to challenging levels of endurance and uneasiness. The production and effects on the instruments and vocals are more echoing this time around, especially on the later. The eerie whispers and painful cries come from all sorts of angles and volumes, while the feedback is ever flowing along with distant cymbals.
It is definitely a more meandering affair. I would even say it is calmer than its' predecessor but that doesn't say much given the type of sonic torture we are talking about. That being said, the second track is clearly more violent than the first one. It will test your patience if you focus too hard on the album since it rarely explodes and releases its' disturbing imagery on you, as ironic as it may sound for an album titled Capture & Release. This EP is a highly atmospheric endeavor, but best enjoyed in the background.
Rod gives this one 3 / 5 Broken Pianos
Sunn O))) - Black One (2005)
A lot of fans boast that Black One is the best album in the Sunn O))) discography. I'd be inclined to agree, if not for Altar and Monoliths & Dimensions, but were I to rank all the Sunn O))) releases, Black One would definitely come in at a strong #3 on my list. This is the "jumping off" point of sorts where Sunn O))) began to shift gears considerably from their earlier material and go in a direction more embracing of outside, non-drone influences. And as you might have guessed by this album's title, here the outside influences in question are predominantly black metal and dark ambient, quite likely making Black One the most eerie and all around haunting Sunn O))) album. This new atmosphere is felt mostly in the music, which takes a bit of a less riff-heavy approach and builds upon the approach taken on White 2, becoming a bit more formless and free-moving in its delivery.
A few notable guests also draw attention this time around: Oren Ambarchi, who would go on to become a frequent O))) - verse collaborator, as well as Leviathan's Wrest and Xasthur's Malefic, both of whom help to add the proverbial icing on the cake to the respective tracks they appear on with their vocal contributions. Wrest's delivery on "It Took The Night To Believe," is especially satisfying, and this track has been and remains a staple of the Sunn O))) discography. Nightmarish and spine tingling, Sunn O))) took the creepy vibes to a new level with Black One, and, being that they haven't quite returned to a similar sound since, the album is significantly distinct within their catalogue for that reason.
Che gives this one 4,5 / 5 Coffins
Bandcamp | Spotify
Khlyst - Chaos Is My Name (2006)
We will make ONE exception and include an album that doesn't involve SOMA nor Greg. You'll be thankful- Or not, depending on your masochism. James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida, from Khanate teamed up with Runhild Gammelsæter who previously supported SOMA and Greg in both Thorr's Hammer and Sunn O))).
Why are we including Khlyst and no other projects like, say, Jodis? There is enough work as it is but most important: This project feels like a sinister sister of Khanate. It touches on similarly creepy, deranged and unnerving abstract horrors. Unlike Khanate, metal isn't a foundation to this monster. The sound is drenched in dark ambient, drone, and noisy guitars that sound... Jazzy? The improv-feel is strong on the guitars and make for a disorienting listening with their atonal feedback and squeals. Same goes with the drums, a chaotic mess without head or tail but it works in their favor. Synths and eerie chants might give you some brief (yet still highly disturbing) quiet moments but the main course are obviously Runhild's banshee screams. She almost seems to be speaking in tongues. It's sick, twisted and oh so unique.
Trying to find order amidst this bizarre void seems fruitless. This journey is more about the textures, the primal sense of survival horror and the imminent presence of a beast coming for you. It's an enigma for you to wrap your head around but it will captivate you like a witch from the woods. And then... Death's embrace.
Rod gives this one 4 / 5 Banshees
KTL - I (2006)
Originally formed to write a score for a theatre piece by choreographer Gisèle Vienne, SOMA and ambient multi-instrumentalist Peter Rehberg joined forces in the form of the ambient project KTL. The project's name derives from said theatre piece which was called Kindertotenlieder (which in turn references composer Gustav Mahler's classical work). Roughly meaning "Songs about the death of children", KTL's debut presents you with extreme computer-generated ambient music with black metal influences here and there.
True to their name, the duo's music consists of grim, cold-hearted hums with odd guitar effects not unlike the ones already present in Sunn O))) catalogue. After the solemn meditation on the first track finishes though, you get into the main vibe of this album with the four-part "Forest Floor". KTL capitalizes on black metal riffs, hypnotizing the listener into an out-of-body experience. Long, drawn-out riffs. No percussion. Just the unnatural tremolo picking that sends you into oblivion along with the never-ending hums and bizarre, alarming mechanical sounds splashed here and there.
Just like many works of ambient music, a really specific state of mind is needed to fully appreciate and to be engaged with KTL's music. The black metal aspects are strongest in their debut, giving it a clear identity for fans of highly meditative music both in- and outside the metal spectrum.
Rod gives this one 3 / 5 Dead Children
Bandcamp | Spotify
Æthenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk The Lamp Of Light (2006)
Fans of the 2014 Sunn O))) / Ulver Terrestrials collaboration may be slightly surprised to learn that the musical camaraderie between SOMA, Kristoffer Rygg, and Daniel O'Sullivan extended far earlier to the past decade as well. While Rygg would not join the project until later, Æthenor at the outset, and with this first debut, consisted of SOMA, O'Sullivan, and Geneva based ambient artist Vincent de Roguin of Shora. On Deep In Ocean Sunk The Lamp Of Light, the trio craft an intriguing, hallucinatory vision between SOMA's guitar and the various organ and synth effects from O'Sullivan and de Roguin. Æthenor is particularly notable within the O)))verse for its focus on higher end timbres, being quite ringy, blissful, and almost lullabye-ish at times with its melodies, a penchant established firmly on this debut album. While not quite as nuanced as some of the band's later material, it is nonetheless a fairly stimulating listening experience, and an important diversification point within SOMA's discography.
Che gives this one 3 / 5 Organs
Altar is the first major Sunn O))) collaboration with another band, and almost 15 years later it's still unquestionably their best. Teaming up with the Japanese Boris as well as several other guests including Earth's Dylan Carlson on the massive bonus track, and keyboardist Tos Nieuwenhuizen (for the first time on a Sunn O))) record) Sunn O))) pumped out this absolute monster in 2006. Some have said it's the best material of either band's discography, perhaps a bold claim, but one that isn't easily challenged. Altar is, essentially, what all collabs should strive to be: a natural synthesis of the sounds of the parties involved to the point where you're not entirely sure where one's style ends and the other's begins, or exactly who was responsible for what aspects of the composition.
At certain points, like with "Etna", the music is colossal, towering, and true to the early sounds of Sunn O))) and Boris, but this approach is a bit deceptive. Later things go into noticeably more abstract and even melodic directions, perhaps taking a cue from what Boris were up to at the time, resulting in a track like "The Sinking Belle" which is almost something of a ballad. There's a lot to unpack here musically and neither band played it safe with regards to sticking to sounds they had already done previously. On the contrary, Altar features tracks that don't really sound quite like anything else Sunn O))) or Boris had done either up to that point or since. A creative peak for both bands, it remains a crown jewel of their respective discographies.
Che gives this one 5 / 5 Blood Swamps
Bandcamp | Spotify
Burial Chamber Trio - Burial Chamber Trio (2007)
Oren Ambarchi and Attila Csihar collaborating with Sunn O))) is nothing new, what is a bit unusual is when only half of Sunn O)))'s core is part of the project with the two, one would expect it to be SOMA instead of Greg Anderson, and yet Burial Chamber trio finds the latter joining the two. The self-titled is but two unnamed tracks totalling to about 30 minutes of runtime, the first being more on the avantgarde side and the latter more on the drone side. You get the wall of harsh electronics, the eerie vocals and the droning guitars, thus pretty much what you can already expect from the trio, more of the first two on the first track and more of the last two on the last track. The project would latter come out with a live album as well, WVRM, but in the end Burial Chamber Trio, while interesting enough, is far from being the first Sunn O)))-related project that I'd be wanting to come back.
Radu gives this one 2,5 / 5 Shovels
Gravetemple - The Holy Down (2007)
Partly spawned from Burial Chamber Trio, Gravetemple slightly changed the lineup by featuring Oren Ambarchi on guitar and drums, Attila on vocals, and SOMA on additional guitar duties. Their inaugural album, actually a live one, consists of a single, 1 long track (yes, one of those). Likely improvised, these three virtuosos spend no hurry in getting to their destination, as the music herein begins in rather quiet ambient territory before crescendoing more into SOMA and Amarchi's trademark walls of feedback closer to its midway point, topped off, of course, by eerie howls and spoken word pieces from Attila. While certainly bringing a few worthwhile new ideas to the table, however, this album ultimately feels like more of a test run for the band than anything, lacking the more tighter, more streamlined feel of their later material. Vital in an evolutionary sense, perhaps, but ultimately a bit forgettable.
Che gives this one 2,5 / 5 Fuzz
KTL - II (2007)
Recorded in an old abattoir as well as a centuries old manor house, KTL continues their road of dark ambiance. The deep hums and electronic sounds take a more sci-fi feeling this time around. The mental images of otherworldly life in the vast cosmos are obtained through much grander compositions. Massive keyboards give away a psychedelic, almost ecstatic vibe as they grow louder and louder in the track "Themes". It is quite the experience but one can wonder if the 27 minutes are justified. On this album the guitars are not as prominent, except in "Abattoir" where they shine with black metal fury, producing a very alarming atmosphere just like in the band's debut. While the intent of the long tracks is clearly defined, I personally drew most enjoyment out of the first and last shorter tracks, especially the later with its ghostly, dream-like delivery on the noisier effects. KTL's sophomore release provides an even more ritualistic and meditative atmosphere than its predecessor. Unfortunately to yours truly, it is much too long for its own good.
Rod gives this one 2 / 5 Rituals
Bandcamp | Spotify
Sunn O))) - Oracle (2007)
It's hard to call this an EP considering that the two tracks that make up most versions of this release combine into more than 30 minutes of runtime, but it becomes impossible when taking the 45 minutes long live bonus track into consideration. Oracle is the first Sunn O))) record to have Attila Csihar do the vocals all throughout, and it is mostly his vocals that give this album such an uneasy vibe, as well as him singing in Hungarian. He is, however, not the only other person on this album, with familiar faces like Joe Preston, TOS Nieuwenhuizen and Oren Ambarchi, but also Boris' Atsuo Mizuno. Aside from the uncanny vocals and the trademark droning ambient guitars, Oracle has some interesting percussion, and immersive synth soundscapes, but nothing that is really on the level of their best releases, but still a worthy dark ambient release.
Radu gives this one 3 / 5 Orakulums
Pentemple - 0))) Presents... (2008)
The story goes that Sunn O))) were touring Australia when they were invited by Striborg's Sir Nanna for an improvisational performance, which became Pentemple's 0))) Presents-. I'm not sure how much I'm willing to name a one-off performance as a new band, but for a band known for collaborations to use another name for a release must mean something. Joining the core duo are Sir Nanna on drums and vocals, Attila Csihar on vocals, and Oren Ambarchi doing guitars. If improvisational jazz is free jazz, this is definitely free doom metal, with a lot of free improvisational stuff on all fronts, but quite uniquely for a Sunn O))) album, a frantic drum performance. The blackened vocals, walls of guitars and all that isn't exactly anything new, but never was the percussion so vicious. They really caught lightning in a bottle with this one.
Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Blasts
Ascend - Ample Fire Within (2008)
Though still moving in slow drone-like territories, Greg Anderson's side project Ascent is closer to some stoner/sludge/doom in its bass-thick and psychedelic sound, so much so that it often sounds like a blend of Sunn O))) and Goatsnake. The duo is completed by Eagle Twin's Gentry Densley, who also provides vocals for most of the record. There are a lot of guests on this record too, from the ever-present Attila Csihar, to Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Void's Bubba Dupree. Though it's a bit more accessible than most Sunn O))) records, even having drums and lyrics you can understand, the songs still operate in a very free-form manner, though with enough changes of pace and extra instrumentation that at times seem to hint at what would eventually come on Monoliths & Dimensions, but in a different shape.
Radu gives this one 4 / 5 Trips
Sunn O))) - Dømkirke (2008)
Sunn O))) have a lot of live albums, most of them not even featured on our website, since they're official bootlegs, but very few hold the same spot as Dømkirke, so much so that some of the material here, like "Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself in Clouds?" being among my favorite Sunn O))) cuts ever. Recorded live in the Bergen cathedral, which is probably the best place one can ever hope to see Sunn O))) live. Joining the duo is Attila Csihar on vocals with what might be his best performance on a Sunn O))) record, especially the operatics on the first track, but the whispers and snarks do not fall behind either. What makes this album so special though is the organ, played by Steve Moore, and the electronic soundscapes by Lasse Marhaug. The former does make sense in the setting, but everything does have an extra layer of spiritual despair from the silence of God, which might just make Dømkirke the most gothic of Sunn O)))'s albums.
Radu gives this one 4 / 5 Cathedrals
Bandcamp | Spotify
Æthenor - Faking Gold & Murder (2009)
Though this isn't the first time we meet Æthenor in this article, and they've actually released another album in between this and the debut, one called Betimes Black Cloudmasses, that actually debuted a huge part of the lineup on this album as well, including Ulver's Kris Rygg and the two percussionists. And while an extra guitarist is enrolled here, we return to this one for one giant reason: Current 93's David Tibet. For those unfamiliar with Tibet's work, perhaps the closest reference point in Sunn O)))'s discog is the "My Wall" track from White1 in which the droning guitar meets some "bonkers" poetry. David Tibet is a different type of bonkers from Julian Cope, especially since he is also a bit lower in the mix and can integrate quite well in the free form sound. Those familiar with Current 93 can probably know what to expect, but even for them the mix with the unhinged percussion might be surprising. Not only is this very percussion driven even by Æthenor standards, but Alexander Tucker's extra guitar complements SOMA's to make this the heaviest and most vicious of Æthenor's releases.
Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Horsies
Bandcamp | Spotify
Khanate - Clean Hands Go Foul (2009)
Despite Khanate's short lifespan, their rich tapestry of miserable sounds is hard to deny. Luckily for us, they couldn't have released a better swansong. Previous releases plagued listeners with an impending sense of fear, anger and straight-up lunacy. Clean Hands Go Foul does all of that too, yet it has its own identity in the form of highly melancholic vibes. It sees the band finding a perfect balance between the savageries of their debut with the newer, more ambient-leaned output. These brooding lamentations can be felt through Alan Dubin's painfully agonizing delivery, buried in the album as distant cries to an unforgiving god. This new-found melancholia also lies in the guitars which have taken a strange, melodious approach in their noisy feedback and leads. Some of these passages almost scratch the surface of funeral doom territory.
You can feel the band crawling their way to the final track, "Every God Damn Thing": A monolithic dirge of over 30 minutes. It's a unique journey through empty spaces, drawn out bass lines, dead beats, electronic glitches, atonal guitars and the ever present whispers and occasional vocal assault of Alan. It is easy to lose track of time once it starts and it manages to keep you intrigued the whole time. Clean Hands Go Foul is bestial, almost collapsing under its own weight of sadness and anguish. Yet the band's dedication makes it sound so humane and delicate at times.
Rod gives this one 4 / 5 Swans
Bandcamp | Spotify
KTL - IV (2009)
At this point in time KTL has been a busy duo and released their third installment in the third year since the project's creation. It is actually the first album that has not been commissioned as a soundtrack for theatre or film. Early 2009 sees KTL devoting into a more defined and structured band that performs live actively. These experiences have turned the formless displays of ambient and drone into a more punchy act. The cerebral riffs and odd, alien computer effects are still present but with a more song-based approach rather than the previous drawn-out soundtracks.
On this release we can hear pulsing, hypnotic bass, creepy organ-like sounds that are sometimes accompanied by bombastic and unpredictable drumming courtesy of Atsuo from Boris. Rather than the sci-fi feeling we got from the project's second offering, a more industrial sound has been created. It's a dark, punishing and no-wave sound quite like the old days of Swans but at more glacial speeds. It is a welcomed change as it gives the project more voices to play with: From more up-tempo and colossal to somber, paranoid dirges.
Rod gives this one 3,5 / 5 Metal Scraps
Bandcamp | Spotify
Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions (2009)
Yep, this is it right here. Along with Altar, this is probably the strongest output the O))) verse has to offer, and it's a masterpiece of the drone genre in general. With Black One Sunn O))) had already begun establishing a practice of incorporating non-drone influences into their music, but where Black One mostly focused on bringing black metal and dark ambient elements into the equation, Monoliths & Dimensions takes this idea and runs even farther with it. Mayhem's Attila Csihar, a Sunn O))) affiliate and live performer since around 2003, is back, and this time he's the commander of this eerie, hallucinatory behemoth, belting out long, deep, and powerful operatic tones with his vocals as if reciting some form of intoxicating, surrealist poetry.
Musically this is easily the most expansive and sonically diverse album in the Sunn O))) discography, something that the imposing list of guest musicians on it can attest to. Carrying something of a free jazz and avant-garde influence, the long roster includes personnel on everything from saxophone to French horn to bass clarinet to-conch shell? Yeah, SOMA and Anderson were definitely not fucking around with this one. A consistently impressive release that has aged quite well, Monoliths & Dimensions is an extremely well composed piece of music that serves as a major testament to just what exactly the drone genre is capable of when its boundaries are pushed to their absolute limit.
Che gives this one 4,5 / 5 Conch Shells
Bandcamp | Spotify
Che: The 2004 - 2009 period gave rise to a considerable diversification of both Anderson and O'Malley's sound palettes. With regards to Khanate and Gravetemple, things got even more painful, oppressive, and ominous, while with other bands like Ginnungagap and Æthenor, compositions went in more pensive, sublime, and harmonious directions. The material of Sunn O))) themselves likewise branched out, incorporating many previously unseen influences into the mixture.
This second chapter in our O)))verse history gave us some of the best this sphere has to offer, and established many important precedents in both Anderson and O'Malley's sonic talents. But, as we have seen and will continue to see, these two often don't do the same thing for too long a time, and as such our final chapter will see the exploration of even newer territories. Thanks for coming, and stay tuned.
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