Not Forever On Earth: Exploring The O)))verse (2010-2019)


Written by: RaduP, Mr. Doctor, Apothecary
Published: 22.10.2020


PART 1
PART 2

Rod: Welcome back, travelers of the weird. This is our third and last entry into the world of the robed ones. Che, Radu and I will cover the works from the past decade by Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson. Previous articles contained mostly soundtracks drenched in a dark, at times suffocating atmosphere. This time around the reader will dive deeper and deeper into the spiritual cosmos and afterlife.





The duo seemed to be eager to be visiting landscapes of beautiful yet mysterious grandeur through more unpredictable means. Sunn O))) took the backseat as other projects started to lead the way, with the main band putting more focus unto collaborations with other gifted bands and artists. How did it pay off? We shall see! Fasten your seatbelts, folks. We are leaving the Earth.





Sunn O))) & Nurse With Wound - The Iron Soul Of Nothing (2011)


This one is a bit deceiving, as it's neither a collaboration nor was it released as late as 2011. This is basically Nurse With Wound remixing Sunn O)))'s ØØ Void for some special edition back in 2007, but it was only separately released in 2011. But alas, it's the only thing besides some live albums and demos released by Sunn O))) in this period. SOME approached Stapleton asking for something in the vein of For Lilith, but The Iron Soul Of Nothing is a bit different. This is much more of a Nurse With Wound record than a Sunn O))) record, with the original album barely having any of its recognizable features left. The tone and dynamics are completely changed. Gone is the loud droning feedback to be replaced with an ambiance that is somewhat more serene and peaceful, but with a constant creepiness, akin to being stuck in a limbo. It is a noisescape in which the droning guitars do sometimes make an apparition, but they are subdued within everything else. Goatsnake's Pete Stahl's vocals do end up somewhere in "Ash On The Trees", as well as some chants, making that track somewhat more dynamic and loud than the usual noisescape of the other tracks.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Soliloquies

Bandcamp | Spotify





KTL - V (2012)


2012 sees KTL returning a few years since their last full length. V doesn't follow the rock-ish vibe of the last album and goes back to the creeping, otherworldly ambience of older works. The project manages to re-invent itself though as V doesn't carry any harsh black metal riffs, instead focusing on a delicate, intriguing and sophisticated neoclassical journey.

The mysterious tunes crawl slowly to the listener like a swarm of insects. It builds tension consistently with ever ascending electronic pitches creating a sensation of vertigo while the low frequencies feel like a powerful, cavernous beast coming from down below. The elegance of KTL's compositions is further enhanced on the fourth track by the invitation of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who orchestrates a fearsome slow-burner of droning strings. It reminded me of Elend but at glacial speeds.

This brooding atmosphere reaches the final step of experimentation with the last 20-minute dirge of the album. Sadly, I do not understand French. But the spoken word remains unnerving with a gasping, dying, and highly unstable voice. It sends a blood-chilling, ceremonial vibe to your spine but it is an acquired taste which won't work for everyone.

Rod gives this one 3,5 / 5 Strings

Bandcamp | Spotify





Nazoranai - Nazoranai (2012)


The improvisational aspect of Sunn O)))'s music is sometimes felt in their live performances, but it is their side projects like Æthenor or the one-off Pentemple thing where it's most obvious. But SOMA and Oren Ambarchi would team up with improviser extraordinaire Keiji Haino, after Oren introduced the two and Keiji joined them on stage once. It led to the power trio eventually teaming up under a proper project, under the Japanese word for "untraced", and recording their live self titled record in 2011 in Paris. With there only being three people performing each of the instruments gets a lot more of the spotlight, with SOMA's bass being absolutely thunderous, and Oren's drumming not falling too far behind. It seems that Keiji managed to bring the two to unleash quite a beast here. Around 70 minutes in length, it's weird, energetic, and massive. Though I'm not a big fan of Keiji's vocals, he always seems to find the right people to collaborate with. It worked with Merzbow, it worked with Jim O'Rourke. It works with SOMA and Oren so well, that they have done two more records under the project since.

Radu gives this one 3 / 5 Joys

Bandcamp | Spotify





Äänipää - Through A Pre-Memory (2013)


Äänipää is the collaborative effort of SOMA and Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio, though an assortment of other musicians also contribute, with Khanate's Alan Dubin especially worth mentioning. SOMA and Mika have collaborated before on one song on the Che split, so named after one of our reviewers, but never under such a large project, with Through A Pre-Memory's 75 minutes being quite a daunting task. Within its massive runtime, it explores a combination of SOMA's drone sound and Mika's glitchy electronics, being among the most electronics-focused of any of the O)))-related albums. There are plenty of completing strings, and everything is then produced/manipulated by Randall Dunn, but Alan Dubin's vocals, which are just as terrifying as they can be on any of Khanate's best days, don't really feel like they fit just as well here, adding to how overall the album isn't as interesting as its runtime would require it to. It would have been great to find out how SOMA and Mika would've further collaborated on something with more focus, but Mika sadly passed away in 2017.

Radu gives this one 2,5 / 5 Gliches

Bandcamp | Spotify





Ensemble Pearl - Ensemble Pearl (2013)


Joining several others in the "supergroup projects that only released one album" club, Ensemble Pearl sees O'Malle joined by Boris' Atsuo Mizuno, Earth's Bill Herzog, and frequent Boris collaborator Michio Kurihara for an hour's worth of droney post-rock, or post-rockey drone, depending on how you look at it. The pace lies still on the slower side, but the palette and focus on percussion sets it apart from being just some dark ambient drone. Inspired by another collaborative record, The Pearl by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, in which the sparseness of the instruments was to give silence a bigger role to play, more or less the same approach is used here, but for an ambient album, it always has the feeling that something is going on, and it doesn't always stay in dark ambient territories.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Microscopes

Bandcamp | Spotify





Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials (2014)


With members of the two bands previously working together in the Æthenor project, and with Sunn O))) already showing their predisposition in releasing collaborative albums with other bands, it was clear that one day they would work side by side with Ulver on one. And it makes sense, both bands have a liking towards highly atmospheric and ominous music. It's no wonder that Terrestrials is just that, a blend of that side of both bands' personalities. On the Sunn O))) side, it's more drone and dark ambient than actual drone metal, with "Western Horn" being the one track closest to their usual sound. Both bands had also recently (not as recently for Sunn O))), but this was conceived sometime in between 2008 and 2012) done their most "orchestral" works, and that is clear in the horns and strings that appear sporadically in the soundscapes. Some 2009 versions of what was to be this album come as a bonus on some versions of the album, one of which also includes Attila Csihar on vocals. Overall, even though it's not the best ambiental work of either of the two bands, it's a shame that the two haven't worked together since on anything other than Æthenor, but that's just more reasons to check that out.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Wolves

Bandcamp | Spotify





Sunn O))) & Scott Walker - Soused (2014)


I have seen this compared to Lulu, the Metallica and Lou Reed collab, and Jesus Christ, let's not go that far. Though there are some similarities, mainly an old male vocalist with an unusual vocal style, and a very capable metal band doing the instrumental side, Soused is better executed, mostly because this time both sides involved had already had experience with avantgarde music, and because SOMA doesn't scream that he is a table. However this is still extremely unsettling and hard to get into, and I can't blame anyone for feeling like this mixes like water and oil, because oftentimes it quite does. And that's why this album is so weird, in the sense that sometimes it feels compelling and everything falls into place, but far too often it feels either that it strikes an uncanny valley, or in the worst cases, that it's dull. And dull is really not what you would want such a powerful collaboration to feel like. More often a Scott Walker album, the best moments are the ones where the sounds of the two work in tandem, like in "Brando" and "Bull". It's quite sad that this would be the last thing that Scott Walker recorded, because theoretically, this should've worked better than it did.

Radu gives this one 2,5 Lashes

Spotify





Ambarchi / O'Malley / Dunn - Shade Themes From Kairos (2014)


Rather than start a new project for this one it seems that O'Malley and Co. decided to use their own names for this one instead. Oren Ambarchi should not be news to anybody by now, but I admit that Randall Dunn is news to me as well. Coming from psychedelic folk band Master Musicians Of Bukkake, Dunn does seem to transpose some of that into the sound here. Though still very droney, it's a lot more layered, psychedelic and groovy, but it returns to the dark ambient roots when necessary. It is a soundtrack album after all, made for a movie about a society that mines time like a mineral, one that jumps from beautiful to uncanny, dreamlike to nightmarelike, pulsating to reverberating. It takes inspiration from everything from dub to drone metal to psychedelic rock to tribal folk to krautrock to minimal synth, even some dream pop.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Tenets

Bandcamp | Spotify





Stephen O'Malley - Gruidés (2015)


Out of the two main Sunn O))) members, it is Stephen O'Malley that seems to be the most collaborative of the two. Though Greg does have his Goatsnake and Ascend ventures, they pale in comparison to the number of projects and collaborations that SOMA has. Even so, he is also the one to have an actual solo career of sorts, most of his solo works being in the usual drone style. However most surprising is Gruidés which sees him as a composer first and foremost. Invited by French pianist Frédéric Brody to compose a work for ONCEIM (L'Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et Improvisation Musicales), SOMA created this 35 minutes long drone piece, it is a creative blend of the long winded and ambiental music that SOMA is known for with an experimental modern classical world, that he since has been much closer to, as just this year he recorded a concert covering two pieces by two Romanian spectralists. But back to Gruidés though, the change of palette from droning guitars to droning orchestra does actually add a lot more tension to the music, with the occasional percussion break feeling almost like jumpscares at points. But even as simple as the concept is, the piece still feels meticulous in layering and detail.

Radu gives this one 4 / 5 Conductors





Goatsnake - Black Age Blues (2015)


Goatsnake are arguably a band that got better with each subsequent release, and their most recent, 2015's Black Age Blues, is a strong testament to that. Coming 15 years after their self titled debut, one may be tempted to think the band may have lost some of their momentum in the stretch, but this is far from the case. Musically there isn't much that sets Black Age Blues apart from its predecessor albums. The blues-heavy stoner metal sound still dominates here, only now it sounds a tad cleaner and less fuzzy, with an all around better sense of production. The band also decided to mix things up a bit more here songwriting wise, focusing not merely on their more bouncy, uptempo approach of earlier but also throwing in some slower, doomier numbers as well with "House Of The Moon" and "A Killing Blues."

Che gives this one 4 / 5 Ghost Towns

Bandcamp | Spotify





Sunn O))) - Kannon (2015)


If Monoliths & Dimensions is the crown jewel of the Sunn O))) discography, Kannon would have to be the forgettable dud of the family. The timing at which Sunn O))) chose to release this album was particularly bad, coming after three collab albums (the last of which, Soused was also something of a dud) and with something of an expectation from fans that the group would then return to form with some new material of their own.

With Kannon, Sunn O))) really dropped the ball. A three track album, the third track is actually a rerecording of one previously done on the band's live Domkirke album, which means Kannon actually only features about 22 minutes of new material. In contrast to the preceding Monoliths & Dimensions this new material comes off as far less expansive, more stripped down, and also carries a rather irritating, abrasive ringiness about its production. Attila is back again, but this time his vocals are woefully buried in the mix, creating a feeling that he wasn't really utilized to his fullest potential.

Die hard O))) fans will probably want to investigate this release simply to see what it's all about, but for newcomers to the O))) verse who are more interested in just hearing the essentials, you won't be missing out on much by skipping this album.

Che gives this one 2 / 5 Molten Metal Whatever Statues

Bandcamp | Spotify





Æthenor - Hazel (2016)


Though Sunn O))) and Ulver have collaborated before, their work together goes as far back as Æthenor's debut in 2006, with SOMA and Daniel O'Sullivan both being members, later joined by Ulver's Kris Rygg and drummer Steve Noble, Hazel is ironically both the Æthenor that is more accessible and the one closest in sound to the Terrestrials collaboration. Though Faking Gold & Murder was definitely their heaviest, Hazel is their most dynamic, with the percussion especially carrying a lot of the songs, and the combination of synths, guitars and sampled vocals swapping the horns and drones of Terrestrials into something that has surprisingly a lot of soul. Louder than usual, threatening to erupt at any moment, but managing to be subdued til the very end without feeling like it didn't get to say what it had to say, Hazel shows the beauty that can exist in place of structure.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Catharsises

Bandcamp | Spotify





Gravetemple - Impassable Fears (2017)


Joining Goatsnake among the "G"-starting projects that would make a comeback in this decade is the Gravetemple project, originally an offshoot of the Burial Chamber Trio, it finds SOMA on guitars and synths, Oren on drums, and Attila on vocals. With the bands' previous three releases being more along the lines of live albums or demos, Impassable Fears is both the most realized outing of the band, but also in line with the live improvised feel of the older material. Each of the three members feels absolutely vital in the energy of the album, the guitars swirling, the synths hovering, the drums pounding, and the vocals howling to create an eerie and dynamic sense of impending doom. However, it doesn't feel significantly better (or better at all) than the rest of the free improvised projects, whether it be older Gravetemple releases, live Sunn O))) albums, or the myriad of other projects in this vein. But it's another testament to the chemistry these folks have.

Radu gives this one 3 / 5 Phobias

Bandcamp | Spotify





KTL - The Pyre (2018)


The on-going collaboration between KTL and dance choreographer Gisèle Vienne reaches a new level. The Pyre sees the project composing a score for the dance piece of the same name. The record has even been released together with a book documenting Vienne's work so one may wonder if this is a return to the project's first works that fully embraced the concept of soundtracks. Thematically speaking, KTL continues to create vast, mysterious landscapes. The new classical tones that were present on the duo's previous opus appear once again but in lesser amounts and mixed with electronic, psychedelic sounds.

It's quite the luminous journey through the stars, albeit easy-going in nature. I remain unsure on how much the work holds up on its own or if it is mandatory to get the full experience with the dance piece. It does make sense since it's a part of a greater performance but it's unfortunate for the listener as the album is a bit too uneventful in the long run.

Rod gives this one 2 / 5 Dances

Bandcamp | Spotify





Sunn O))) - Life Metal (2019)


After a somewhat tumultuous and uneven decade for Sunn O))), where every album was either a side-project, a collaboration or just disappointing, Sunn O))) decided to end the decade with not one, but two records. Starting off with a sample of Bathory's "Odens Ride Over Nordland", Life Metal turns around most of the gripes of their 2010 material so far, being not only extremely consistent and fairly exploratory, but also having some of the best production that Sunn O))) have ever had. Responsible for the high quality of the recording is sound capturing master Steve Albini, who makes each layer sound at its absolute clearest and fullest.

Even if it's far from the most layered Sunn O))) record out there, Life Metal is still far from being bare-bones. Joined here by honorary third member TOS Nieuwenhuizen on moog, múm member and Oscar and Golden Globe award winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir on cello, halldorophone and the only bits of vocals on the entire thing, as well as making their debuts as Sunn O))) collaborators are Tim Midyett on bass and whatever the hell crotales are, and Anthony Pateras on pipe organ. So, as you can see, there's still plenty outside of just the droning guitars of the familiar duo, and it is mostly due to the great production that these sound so great together.

Life Metal is indeed quite a funny name, and there's a reason for it, but also it seems very fitting considering this actually feels like one of the lightest, and most life-affirming and celebratory of their releases. And at this point in our journey through their releases, I think we can all agree they have damn good reason to celebrate.

Radu gives this one 4,5 / 5 Celebrations

Bandcamp | Spotify





Sunn O))) - Pyroclasts (2019)


We finish off our journey with Pyroclasts, the counterpart to Life Metal, conceived from recordings of jam sessions that took place before and after the actual recording sessions for Life Metal, it's quite clear that the share have a strong bond. Most of the same people are involved in both, Steve Albini still handled production, and the guests other than Anthony Pateras return. There are no vocals this time around, the entire thing is shorter overall, and it does in a way deliver on its promise of being the more meditative of the duo.

With slightly less variation, and with each track springing from the seed of a single modal drone, it works well enough on its own for what could have potentially felt like a B-sides album, but it still works best in synergy with its counterpart. Both records have that life-affirming essence to them, one that is conveyed slightly differently on either record, whether through Life Metal's layered and dense sounds, or through Pyroclasts meditative modal explorations. Regardless, we do finish our journey on a high point.

Radu gives this one 3,5 / 5 Meditations

Bandcamp | Spotify




Rod: And thus, our article series reaches a final note. We hope that through these reviews of the weird and occult, the reader finally realizes how varied the landscapes of ambient and drone (metal) can be. From menacing voyages filled with violent claustrophobia to bright, groovy mantras of inspired ecstasy, Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson have proved that they are capable of creating larger than life records both alone and together with other artists and bands.

While this type of music has existed prior to this duo, they can be credited for being responsible in creating its current following. Evolution never reaches a dead-end and these cloaked figures will continue to marvel and confuse audiences with the help of cosmic walls of riffs.

Shine on, you crazy robes!



 


Comments

Comments: 7   Visited by: 47 users
22.10.2020 - 10:45
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
And now we need wait 10 years to part 4. I hope you guys are not plan to leave, die or wanish in Space.
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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22.10.2020 - 11:09
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Bad English on 22.10.2020 at 10:45

And now we need wait 10 years to part 4. I hope you guys are not plan to leave, die or wanish in Space.

You'll have to be patient and trusting with us.
----
Father: How can a picture of a field be sad without a sad person looking sad in the field?
Young Woman: That's an interesting problem. Yeah, I struggle with that.
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22.10.2020 - 11:59
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Written by RaduP on 22.10.2020 at 11:09

Written by Bad English on 22.10.2020 at 10:45

And now we need wait 10 years to part 4. I hope you guys are not plan to leave, die or wanish in Space.

You'll have to be patient and trusting with us.

Radu livs in Florida, there are Putins, gators and sharks
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
Loading...
22.10.2020 - 14:14
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
This was a pretty great series we did all and all, totally up to doing something similar with another artist with a huge discog with you guys at some point in the future (a JKB or Mories series would be pretty cool, eh?)

Above all, I'm glad that this has gotten me into revisiting so many SOMA and Anderson albums over the past 3 months or so, many of which I hadn't jammed for years. Has made me reevaluate which bands, projects, and eras of the O))) verse are really my favorite. Right now I'd probably give the winner trophy to the mid era Sunn O))) stuff we covered in the second article, but Khanate comes in at a close 2, probably followed by Aethenor, Goatsnake, and Gravetemple after that. I'd rank Teeth Of Lions a bit higher as well if they'd released more material.
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Check out Apothecary's Favorite Bands Playlist, brotendo. One track per band.
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22.10.2020 - 14:22
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 22.10.2020 at 14:14

This was a pretty great series we did all and all, totally up to doing something similar with another artist with a huge discog with you guys at some point in the future (a JKB or Mories series would be pretty cool, eh?)

Let's not spoil anything. We definitely will, but a Mories one might be too ambitious.
----
Father: How can a picture of a field be sad without a sad person looking sad in the field?
Young Woman: That's an interesting problem. Yeah, I struggle with that.
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23.10.2020 - 14:19
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 22.10.2020 at 14:22

Let's not spoil anything. We definitely will, but a Mories one might be too ambitious.

It only gets more ambitious the longer we wait and the more releases he drops in the meantime
----
Check out Apothecary's Favorite Bands Playlist, brotendo. One track per band.
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31.10.2020 - 17:49
Opethian
I have always loved this group. I can't say that I enjoy everything that they have dished out, and that's ok, but overall a great gem in my opinion. Cheers
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