Sunn O))) isn’t for everyone, certainly not for those with bowel control issues if they were to attend one of the band’s notorious ground and venue-rumbling performances, such shows that some fans liken to spiritual experiences. The drone overlords have returned with a reliably thunderous slab that continues to eschew conventional four-piece band structure and mindset in favor of a truly artistic, experimental approach to sculpting sound. The band’s core, Greg Anderson (Goatsnake) and Stephen O’Malley (Khanate, Burning Witch), remain steadfast on its path sandblasted with weighty, slow riffs that are played at absurdly high volumes.
Their original template of minimalism has gradually morphed into something more experimental and noisy with more guests, collaborative efforts and sounds. Monoliths & Dimensions (2009) boasted choirs, additional stringed instruments and horns. And more recently, they’ve collaborated with artists as varied as Ulver on Terrestrials and Scott Walker on Soused.
But with Kannon, Sunn O))) has returned to its roots with minimalism shining as the obvious focal point. Bottom-heavy chords ring out, and a thick sonic wall is sustained until it’s either beefed up with increasing volume or broken with feedback or additional strumming and chord transitions.
The release’s liner notes indicate that Kannon addresses Buddhist perceptions of mercy and compassion, apropos considering that while certainly not accessible, it’s arguably one of their most, dare I say, soothing releases; one that stands in polar opposition to the menacing nature that defined their debut, ØØ Void.
Sunn O)))’s familiar cohorts Oren Ambarchi, Rex Ritter and Steve Moore have reared their ugly heads once more, but the most noticeable returning musician is Mayhem’s vocalist and frontman Attila Csihar. Attila’s idiosyncratic chants roll of his forked-tongue, as per usual; however the performance from the storied anomalous singer is surprisingly pedestrian considering his back catalogue.
The additional musicians are supplemental to the core. O’Malley and Anderson have the capabilities of wielding minimalism to sometimes dramatic effects. The sound is likably massive with Kannon, but there’s little excitement. They’re successful in grabbing attention and building anticipation here, and that lingers with their long, drawn-out songs, yet the suspension doesn’t lead to any kind of climax. The ideas seem excessively static and underdeveloped.
Thumbs up to the form here; thumbs down regarding the content. Kannon is enjoyable, and, as always, the lack of percussion somehow enhances the sense of ritual, but Sunn O))) can do much better than this.