Sunn O))) - Monoliths And Dimensions
Southern Lord
Experimental Drone Metal, Ambient
4 songs (53:40)
Release year: 2009
Southern Lord
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the month

Writing about Sunn O))) without sweeping generalisations and wildly hysterical flights of lyrical fancy is quite difficult, it seems from a pre-review read-around on the internet. I suspect this is, largely, because that moment when you 'get' the band and realise just how incredible and earth-shaking the atmosphere they create is very hard to describe without mentioning lakes of lava and glaciers collapsing and similar metaphors. Of course, we have Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson to thank for Drone’s re-emergence into the underground spotlight; certainly, Earth’s Dylan Carlson has much to be thankful for, as the exhumation of his band from former trivia-question obscurity into the respected institution that they are nowadays seems unlikely without this strange pair of bearded men playing... very... slowly... indeed.

After a few albums of just that some experimentation was necessary, so the band gradually expanded their sound to include drums, the unearthly wailings of Mayhem legend Attila Csihar, a Black Metal influence on 2005’s well-received Black One, the whole of Japanese Doom-Rock-Sludge-Droners Boris on the following year’s even better-received Altar... what next? It’s been an interesting wait, the only new studio release since Altar being 2007’s limited Oracle EP, and whilst the band have also released a couple of live albums, the wait for a genuine follow-up to Altar has been a painful one for many fans, including yours truly; breath held in expectation of another masterpiece from the duo and their collaborators.

Hold that breath for a second, for a second more, and then slowly release it in a sigh of relief; Sunn O))) have outdone themselves yet again. As you’d expect from the spacey album title, this is one of those albums that is much a trip, a journey, an experience, as it is a piece of music, and from the moment you start to listen and the stern-faced depths of Aghartha begin to ring out, it’s hard not to mentally fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the ride down into hell, the descent into darkness. At seventeen minutes-plus in length, this clearly requires patience, but I found it distinctly easier to listen to than, say, The GrimmRobe Demos. About five minutes in, Attila’s harsh croak begins, taking the eeriness of the music up until then and propelling it even further down the path to nightmares, the riffs beginning to take form and substance.It is dread in aural form, the kind of thing you’d expect from a Lovecraft adaptation, and it speaks volumes to the band’s compositional skills that as you listen, a distant, more melodious sound begins to be heard, rising until you, stunned, recognise it as a string orchestra, discordantly screeching to create a wall of atonal noise counterpoint to the deep roar of guitar and bass. Strange percussive clicking and tapping begins around the eleven-minute mark, the twisted melodies sluggishly fighting for survival and the guitars mutate into brass instruments, trombones, tubas and the like sounding a militaristic salute that drones its way to the track’s conclusion.

This excellent beginning is only improved. The lengthily-titled Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) begins by slapping you in the face with a female choir, their high voices riding over the oceanic rolls of Dylan Carlson-enhanced drone like mermaids in a stormy sea. It’s as ominous as hell, especially after the punishment of the last track, and incredibly epic; chants and a single Church bell batter you into cowering submission before the might of the drone. Attila makes a reappearance, the riffs take shape and form, and before you know it you’re staggering on, driven insane by the female chants and that distant, malevolent Church bell, as massive and potent a symbol as the albatross around the ill-fated sailor’s neck. Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)’s opening is nearly catchy in comparison, the riffs taking on a Stoner feel before Csihar’s dark croak makes things much darker, fitting in better with the music than before and forming a Black Metal atmosphere, enhanced by the distant orchestral swell that takes the riffs and forms them into a sharp-edged weapon, repeating itself under the vocals until suddenly, strangely, you’re uplifted by a cinematic choir and psychedelic keyboards, taking the ominous dread of before and creating an emotional u-turn. It’s hard to describe, but Attila becomes not so much a threat as your guide through this terrain, taking your hand in his appendage and showing you the exit to these great dark caverns, an exit that takes form and solidifies on the final track Alice.

Although it starts ominously, the dark tones are sparse, the song kicking off properly only when the riffs and horns begin their call-and-response, the build-up epic, the atmosphere that of a man arising from hell to the surface of the earth, and if I could declare tracks rather than albums I would rate this the best of the year. People often compare Sunn O))) unfavourably to Justin Broadrick’s jesu in terms of atmosphere, and with Alice their complaints are gone, the melancholic yet hopeful stillness reflected in both band’s music coming to the fore here. It’s one of the most melodic songs that Sunn O))) have created, almost Classical towards the end, and as the finale to this album is truly amazing.

Being the music nerd I am, I first listened to this with headphones and my eyes closed. Interestingly, I’m not sure where it happened, but you can no longer play Sunn O))) albums at their maximum volume without seriously damaging your hearing, so beware of that, but otherwise I fully recommend giving this album your all. As ever, deciding who will like this is a tough job; if you’re a fan, you shouldn’t have to read this to know that you’ll love it, but if you hated the band before I’m not sure that the ambient and creative experiments here will be enough to overcome this distaste. Certainly, it’s one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard for a while, and I have no hesitations about scoring it like I have done – in my view, it’s Sunn O)))’s greatest work yet, and although the cycle of breath-held hope now begins again, Monoliths And Dimensions will provide some O)))xygen until their next stunning album.

Killing Songs :
Aghartha, Big Church, Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia), but especially Alice
Goat quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Sunn O))) that we have reviewed:
Sunn O))) - 00 Void (reissue) reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Sunn O))) - Black1 reviewed by Daniel and quoted 85 / 100
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