Search The Line of Best Fit
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Sunn O Meltdown

Deafened by the Sunn O))): Doom metallers bludgeon Meltdown

21 August 2015, 14:54 | Written by Russell Warfield

The crowd who come to see Sunn O))) at the Southbank Centre as part of David Byrne’s Meltdown festival tonight (18th August) are a mixed bunch.

There’s the full scale death metal types alongside middle aged fans of the avant garde, and there’s me in a jumper with kittens playing in the snow, mainly failing to blend in. I know that Sunn O)))’s fans have a reputation for intense devotion, and it’s this that ties the audience together, even with the jarring situation of doom and drone plonked into a context of middle class artsy culture.

Their rig alone is an intimidating sight. A Stonehenge semi-circle of cabinets, ready to engulf us. Dozens flock to the front of the room to excitedly take photos of it before anything’s even begun. It’s an adoring crowd.

The sound itself, as promised, is unbelievable. Their low-end – hideously down tuned guitars, guttural vocals and purely physical bass sounds get all their press – but never underestimate their high frequencies either. They can make a guitar really scream. Not that there are really any chords, nor even many real notes. There’s a mid-section which tests the vaguest outlines of something faintly shaped like an actual riff, but that’s about it. At bottom, they use the guitar to reduce music to its purest components of sound, aiming for – and achieving – little less than physical, bodily hijack.

There’s some self-seriousness to the entire spectacle. This is famously part of the deal, with some of their die-hard fans doing this claw salute they do. I feel quite far away from home turf at these moments; as if I’m intruding on a shared ritual. But make no mistake - many aspects of their performance are quite camp and theatrical, bordering on silly. They billow their arms in the smoke of the dry ice machine. They lock eyes to prepare for a few moves of synchronised dance. At times, it’s unclear how seriously we’re expected to take some of this stuff.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s room for the genuinely horrible. Dark blue lights obliterating the stage give a theatrical sense of genuine foreboding, while the finale of a fragmented mirror literally screaming at a barely bearable pitch push the boundaries of what constitutes entertainment. I’m deeply ashamed of the sunflower seed and barley loaf of bread in the tote bag leaning against my knee. It doesn’t seem in the spirit of things.

The sound itself is always what’s key though. For all of its heaviness and terror, it’s surprisingly meditative and relaxing. It moves mostly at a glacial pace – but offers louder and more intrusive than frequencies I’ve ever experienced. Their core audience are enthralled, and by the end, a novice like me has found it to be a truly singular experience as well.

  • Photo by Victor Frankowski.
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