This overview is dedicated to essential brother Ray Mescallado, who I know is a big fan of this album and this type of music…
Monoliths and Dimensions
Available on CD, 180g double LP, iTunes, AmazonMP3, eMusic, and Spotify.
I put this album in my Top 10 list for 2009 at TGML, but I never actually reviewed it. Now that I have this less restrictive single-concept sister blog, I have an excuse to write about it.
The skinny: Sunn O))) is primarily the duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, former bandmates in both Thorr’s Hammer and Burning Witch who, one day after both bands were but memories, decided to get together one day in a room with their guitars and a bunch of amplifiers turned up to levels that make Nigel Tufnel look unplugged, and see what happened. What happened spurred on their first recording, The Grimm Robe Demos, and a rather unique sound that encompassed black metal, drone music, ambient music, and anything else they could sneak into their sonic stew. Much of their output isn’t exactly easy listening, but their most recent studio release, Monoliths and Dimensions, is the perfect starting point for investigating the band’s modus operandi. It’s literally their most experimental – and accessible – release to date. The album consists of four long tracks – given the almost experimental classical leanings, one could look at this album as a four-movement symphony.
“Agartha” starts off with the typical massed guitars playing long, drowning, overtoning powerchords. A few minutes in several more instruments – primarily orchestral strings, the lower octaves of a grand piano, and sometime Mayhem vocalist Atilla Csihar kicking some rather bizarre and esoteric spoken word about ships, clouds, and Eskimos. By the time two thirds of the song have passed, the guitars have been mixed out of the sound spectrum, replaced by droning horns, upright bass strings being scraped by the backs of bows, and Csihar’s vocals. With less than two minutes left in the song, even the horns have disappeared, leaving behind Csihar’s spoken word and the sounds of water and wind.
“Big Church [Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért]” starts off with twenty seconds of a Viennese women’s choir before the guitars, accompanied by equally droning organ, interrupt things. The guitars rear back a little to let the choir back in, one guitar arpeggiating whole notes along with the choir while another comes in and out with powerchords. The guitars start to feedback alongside some Gregorian-chant-influenced male vocals before all of that is interrupted by a single church bell. Then the standard Sunn O))) superpowerchords come back in to start the whole cycle a second time.
“Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)” begins with very tinny, faded out, guitar playing, sounding almost like a broken speaker. Suddenly, a switch seems to get flipped and everything sounds like it should be sounding. Csihar is back, kicking a more musical vocal (well, about as musical as his vocals on Mayhem’s De Miisterias Dom Sathanas) over O’Malley’s and Anderson’s busy riffing during what could be considered the verse part. A brass section comes in for the choruses, playing a dark and foreboding – yet still major key sounding – fanfare.
“Alice” – said to have been written about or dedicated to the late jazz keyboardist/spiritualist Alice Coltrane (John’s widow) – closes out things in epic fashion. We hear the reverb of Sunn O)))’s guitars, which itself gets drowned out by a lone guitar strumming a semi-gentle, yet prominent chord, joined almost immediately afterward by a bass and then the orchestral players. Like the beginning of the album, the guitars are eventually mixed out of the picture – while orchestral elements more suited to a Disney movie, like harps and flutes take over the droning instrument duties.
Writing about this album, one is left with a loss for words when trying to describe it. As experimental as it may sound, Monoliths and Dimensions should definitely be experienced by serious music lovers, if they haven’t experienced it yet already.