SUNN 0 ))) and OREN AMBARCHI at the Music Gallery, May 22. Tickets: $20. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Most of us have had a few surreal experiences. Maybe you thought your bathroom was haunted and saw spectres every time you went to pee. Or maybe once you could have sworn your cat said, like, three words in English to you.
Well, after sitting in a pew with the old King James within reach and seeing drone metal lords Sunn 0))) play in St. George the Martyr Church , I can tell you that just about any surreal moment I've ever had now pales in comparison.
It was billed as something of a two-parter, with opener Oren Ambarchi performing a solo set designed to segue into Sunn's, but things didn't get very loud till a few minutes in. Ambarchi started things lightly enough with guitar-looping and frequency manipulation, and if a guy occasionally tweaking knobs and picking at a guitar isn't mind-blowingly fascinating, Ambarchi's use of sonic texturing and improvisation evolved from ambient minimalist drone into something chaotic and wonderfully loud.
Loud. Anyone familiar with Sunn knows they're loud, but there's loud like a car without a muffler or a party full of drunken teenagers and then there's a more punishing loud the kind you can feel rumble around inside your belly. That would be Sunn's kind of loud.
But this band isn't simply about performing a few songs and leaving it at that. A Sunn show is more of an interactive experience where, whether they like it or not, the audience is involved in a way that borders on uncomfortable.
Sunn have always been about pushing the limits of the live musical experience, including the environment in which it's performed, so when smoke machines belched out a thick and eerie fog and the darkness of the room gave way to an ominous red glow, it seemed like Sunn wanted everyone to know exactly what it might feel like to be stuck in purgatory.
Between the dreamlike haze and the volume, Sunn, playing straight through for an hour and a half, made it pretty clear that they want their shows to be an endurance test. Core duo Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley , along with Ambarchi and a fourth, all in hooded robes like Druidic priests preparing for a sacrifice, played gloomy, down-tuned guitars and basses through a wall of amps with volumes so high that any rumbling, sludgy noise felt like it was coating the room and everyone in it.
Having recently released the highly acclaimed and groundbreaking Black One (Southern Lord), a hybrid of drone and scathing black metal, the band's current sound was bleaker and more melancholic than much of their past work. Sunn have truly mastered the art of punishing their audience with volume and simultaneously creating experimental music that is physically and intellectually engaging.
Not for the faint of heart.