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Sunn O))), "Monoliths & Dimensions"

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cover imageSome album titles are more apt than others but this is one album whose name rings true. With the heart stopping slabs of guitar paired with some serious musical exploration, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have looked beyond their usual extreme music surroundings and recruit some truly surprising collaborators for their most ambitious album to date.

 

Southern Lord

Sunn 0))) - Monoliths and Dimensions

Sunn O))) have always incorporated musical styles from outside the doom metal ghetto to varying degrees of success. The White albums fused more experimental forms of sound with Anderson and O’Malley’s guitars and the duo have consulted an ever increasing cast of collaborators on their subsequent albums. In particular, Oracle and their album with Boris, Altar have widened the boundaries within which Sunn O))) operate. However, both these releases had their flaws as well as their successes but with Monoliths & Dimensions they managed to fully integrate their amp excess with influences from the worlds of jazz and contemporary composition.

Half the album follows a traditional path for Sunn O))), possibly due to their renewed interest in their riff and drone beginnings (recently having toured as a duo recreating the spirit of their first release live). The opening piece, “Aghartha,” unfolds over a colossal guitar riff as Atilla Csihar intones a legend about a subterranean kingdom. The track title is also a nod to Miles Davis, one of the several jazz references on Monoliths & Dimensions. The old school Sunn O))) riffage appears again on “Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia),” where Anderson and O’Malley nod once again to Earth with a riff that could easily have come from Dylan Carlson’s own fingers. As far as textbook Sunn O))) tracks go, these two follow all the rules and supplement them with little flourishes, details and surprising additions like piano and horns.

Even with the little additions as a portent of what is to come, the rest of the album is astonishing. With all the descriptions of choirs, orchestras and jazz that preceded Monoliths & Dimensions, I feared that this would be some sort of mess and that Sunn O))) would finally succumb totally to being a real life Spinal Tap and unleash a “Jazz Odyssey” on us. Thankfully, the end result is one of the most fascinating metal albums to grace my stereo in years. “Big Church” starts off with a haunting choir refrain that sounds like one of Giya Kancheli’s more harrowing works. The addition of Dylan Carlson on guitar transposes the piece from Kancheli’s bleak east to Morricone’s blood red west (and surprisingly, the choir part was a transcription based on one of Carlson’s guitar riffs).

The album’s biggest wow moment comes with the indescribably beautiful “Alice,” dedicated to the memory of Alice Coltrane and featuring ex-John Coltrane collaborator Julian Priester on trombone (along with Stuart Dempster and Sunn O))) regular Steve Moore). The music is particularly unusual for Sunn O))) in that it is joyous, spacious and relies mostly on not amplifying the hell out of everything. With each strum of O’Malley’s guitar, the ensemble (they are way too dignified to be called a bunch of session musicians or a band) play swelling chords, the notes ascending into space and beyond. Priester’s mournful, haunting but magnificent trombone plays out the album and there’s nary a dry eye in the house.

That Sunn O))) could pull this out of their hoods should not be a surprise considering they are magpie-like collectors of unusual collaborators but I am still reeling from the shock of Monoliths & Dimensions. To be completely gobsmacked by an artist I think I know well is a terrific feeling and Sunn O))) have gone beyond that. Everything about Monoliths & Dimensions is flawless, from the performance itself down to the visual presentation. Randall Dunn and Mell Dettmer’s production is superb; the balance between conservatory instruments and the guitars has been tweaked to perfection (instead of sounding like the guitars have been turned down, instruments like the piano instead sound like they are being played by giants). Even the sleeve seems so deliberate and in keeping with the musical vision. This is an album for people who love their music, not something that can be dropped into a playlist for easier digestion. Monoliths & Dimensions is tremendous in every way.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 31 May 2009 09:25  


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