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Sunn O)))
Monoliths And Dimensions Jimmy Martin , May 18th, 2009 03:28

Such is the extent to which apocalyptic dread appears to be infecting the music industry as the first decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close, end-is-nigh rants appear a mere step away. Yet how oddly apt would it be if the folk to temporarily save us from the black clouds lurking over the horizon, and to bring back some intrigue, excitement, and genuine religious awe to an ailing environment, happened to be best known as black-cowled doom-mongers themselves? A band that originally started off as a semi-joke, no less? Yet this is the situation we find ourselves in as we’re confronted by Monoliths And Dimensions, the seventh album and bona fide piece de resistance from the crepuscular force known as Sunn O)).

Sunn O)))’s history thus far, from the days when they were supporting steadfast Brit-metal legends Orange Goblin and their distributors were refusing to release their supposedly uncommercial records, has essentially consisted of investigating a myriad different methods of painting it black, yet all with a playful sense of adventure that both distances them from their metal origins and stops them appearing too highbrow a concern. Monoliths And Dimensions, though, as the title gives away, marks a point where both the rivethead origins of the duo and their more avant-garde leanings are given license to marry in blissful harmony. Here, metal’s crudest essence, the primal, powerful clang of the power chord and the diabolis in musica, joins forces with orchestration overflowing with atmosphere and otherworldly allure, and the results are little short of transcendental.

Although opener ‘Aghartha’ kicks off much like the droning Sunn O))) of yore, no sooner have we been lulled into a false sense of security by its subterranean rumble than string section overtones creep in in sinister and unsettling fashion, while Atilla Csihar’s gravel-throated monologue lends the proceedings an unnerving air of ritualistic intensity. Csihar has always been one of the most powerfully shamanistic vocalists around, yet Monoliths And Dimensions is a career best for him, even topping his appearance on Mayhem’s black metal masterpiece De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas for stentorian gravitas. Soon, the horns and brass are a howling miasma of atonal whirr, a disorientating and devastating melee of unheimlich that’s never less than fearsomely compelling.

Yet mere chaos and confusion is only the starting point from whence this album takes its vault into the unknown: The ceremonial intensity remains manifest in ‘Big Church’, yet this time the religious awe comes not from noisy abandon but from intricate choral arrangements, juxtaposed with speaking-in-tongues babble and a tolling bell that brings the rapturous drama of Morricone to mind. On ’Hunting And Gathering’, perhaps the most uptempo song Sunn O))) have managed thus far, grinding, primitive riffage locks horns with epic brass arrangements to join the dots between Celtic Frost’s ’Innocence And Wrath’ and the soundtrack to some imaginary Robert E Howard adaptation. The real surprise, however, not to mention the ultimate testimony to guest arranger Eyvind Kang’s sleight-of-hand, arrives with closer ’Alice’, as the album-long tussle between gut-level monomania and fevered abstraction blossoms, through instinct and expert navigation both, into a finale, touched by the respective hands of Bernard Hermann and Miles Davis, that can only be described as idyllic.

Few would ever have expected Sunn O)))’s modus operandi to elevate their brand of avant-atavism to quite this lofty plateau, but credit is due to their accidental blurring of spurious notions of high and low culture in the process: Monoliths And Dimensions has all the sturm-und-drang one could wish from a metal record, yet genuinely takes the blissful noise of heavy amplification into thrilling uncharted territory. Indeed, with dark forces like this to contend with, those black clouds on the horizon suddenly seem more irrelevant than ever.