With all this festive merriment and commercially viable pop music filling the air, this seems like the time of year in which you’d be least likely to expect a new album from Seattle doom metal twosome Sunn O))). But here we are.
Over the past few years Sunn O))) have made a habit of finding inspiration through collusion. The arch collaborators have set some impressive sonic presidents by teaming up with a diverse range of artists - from Scott Walker (Soused) to Ulver (Terrestrials) - but Kannon, the band’s seventh studio album, sees Sunn O))) taking a more independent approach and stands as the first ’solo’ Sunn O))) album since 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions.
Approaching a new Sunn O))) album can be a daunting prospect. Each one is like peering into the collective mind of core members Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, and Kannon is proof positive that the experience is at once exhilarating and terrifying.
Named after the Buddhist Goddess of mercy, who’s name literally translates to “the one who perceives the sounds of the world”, Kannon is comprised of three tracks that make up a “triadic whole” with the songs simply numbered “I”, “II” and “III”. As it turns out, the namesake is an apt one, as it seems as though Sunn O))) have made a pretty good attempt at distilling every audible element known to humanity into three songs. It’s akin to what happens when you mix together every shade in a colour wheel; you end up with black.
“I” wastes no time in deploying the familiar duelling guitars drenched in bowel-rupturing levels of distortion. So far, so Sunn O))). But the cadence in the deep chords is beset by rising and falling textural intricacies that make it clear Sunn O))) are a band who aren’t content with simply turning their amps up to full blast and hammering out some dropped D. There’s an artistry in the music that supports a considered approach to metal as a whole.
The vocal additions of long time collaborator Attila Csihar during “II” give the track a feral feel, like the claws are out and heading straight for you. But the misty, middle distance neolithic chants echoing later in the track make you realise it’s too late and you’re already on top of the temple’s alter, strapped down and about to receive the full force of the band’s drone metal doom.
“III” is where Sunn O))) really drill down into the depths of their register. The free-form rumbling sonics serve as the back bone to an undulating body of ringing, mile high textural distortion that writhes like a mythical beast trying to escape from its own shadow.
Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes, Kannon is short for a Sunn O))) album, especially compared to the band’s 2005 epic Black One, but this doesn’t mean the material is any less rewarding. In fact, having such a comparatively bite-sized chunk of Sunn O))) might go a long way to making Kannon one of O’Malley and Anderson’s most accessible introductions to their sprawling aesthetic.
Kannon certainly won’t be delivering any Christmas number ones, but what Sunn O))) have managed to deliver is an exhilarating, colon-shaking song cycle of pitch black metal that will perfectly complement those approaching January blues.