It’s a strong night for live music in the capital, with every venue in London (or at least its North and East) seemingly boasting something on its bill that, on any other evening, would rise straight to the top of one’s gig-going priority list. Yet it’s the pairing of drone metallers Sunn O))) with legendary avant-garde outfit Nurse With Wound that just about edges it for the uniformly darkly clad, hairy, y-chromosome sporting throng gathered at Koko, interested as we are to get some clues as to how the latter’s purported influence on the former actually manifests itself.
Though Nurse With Wound’s three and a half decade long career is littered with exactly the kind of guttural noise and piercing squall you’d imagine the Sunn O))) boys would have cocked an ear to at some point, tonight they largely avoid cacophony as a method of confrontation, opting for something infinitely more peculiar. True, the beginning does see Steven Stapleton’s quartet crouched over samplers and guitars, producing the sort of low pitched hums and unnerving noises for which they’re most famed. But 20 minutes or so in we’re introduced to a frontman who seems to be taking as many cues from children’s TV presenter Toby Anstis as he is Current 93’s David Tibet, as curious yarns about how “the engine is OUROBORATING!” spew forth from his wide-eyed, velvet dinner jacket wearing frame. He even breaks out a kazoo on a couple of occasions, leading the band into sections that sounds like the kind of disco tune someone in Throbbing Gristle would have played at their wedding. As engaging as they were irritating, Nurse With Wound’s bizarre sixty minutes tonight have the curious quality of both flying by and feeling mercifully short.
In comparison, the hour and a half long onslaught of Sunn O))) makes NWW seem like kids stuff. The kazoos might’ve had something to do with it, but being fair to Stapleton’s lot, when faced with quite this barrage of sound originating from countless amplifiers, delivered through thick fog by two men in black hoods, any other music at all really does just feel a bit…insignificant.
The first 40 minutes have the duo slowly – surprise!- building their chords up to eyeball shaking levels of volume, letting each one hang in the air for as long as possible before it rots into the next, all the while getting louder, louder, louder. It’s only with the ascent to stage of Mayhem singer Atilla Cshiar (who worked with the band on the astonishing Monoliths and Dimensions) that a moment’s respite in the dissonance appears. His entrance ushers in a dazzling shift in playing style from bombardment to sparse bleakness for which Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are rarely given credit, its coupling with the chillingly intense vocals of Cshiar ensuring that Sunn O))) are just as petrifying in their quieter periods as they are when operating at full throttle.
If this sounds like a retread of every Sunn O))) gig in the past few years, I’d ask you to bear in mind a couple of things; the first being that I ain’t ever seen me no bad Sunn O))) gig, with this evening’s continuing that enviable run. Secondly, if this is the kind of music you’re after, variation is not high on the list of priorities – and this band should remain your first, if not, only port of call. Though Anderson and O’Malley might be lambasted by certain sections of the metal community for embracing things like All Tomorrow’s Parties, branded tote bags and the generally more indie-sympathetic aspects of alt-music, there’s no denying that theirs is a uniquely aggressive, chandelier wobbling style of rock ‘n roll that has all but been perfected. If it’s hipster metal, frankly, sign me up. Sunn O)))’s place as one of the guitar bands for whom the last 15 years will be most fondly remembered is surely cemented, and we should continue to celebrate their efforts to push the medium forward, or rather, to drag it back in to the primordial sludge from which everything else was spawned.