Sunn O))) Get Back “Out There” on ‘Kannon’

Photo: Peter Beste

Photo: Peter Beste
By Gregory Adams
Published Dec 09, 2015

While on paper, the six-year gap between Sunn O)))‘s monstrous Monoliths & Dimensions LP and their newly released Kannon suggests an abyss in band activity, the truth of the matter is that the drone metal kings have just been thinking outside of the box for the last few years. In essence, full-length collaborations with Norway’s Ulver and pop singer-turned-eccentric experimentalist Scott Walker were just extensions of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s long-term goal to open our minds with a blast of gloomy riffs.

“We never really went away from it. We just had these other amazing opportunities to explore, like working with Scott Walker,” O’Malley tells Exclaim! of Sunn O)))’s productivity. “When something like that comes up, you want to make it happen. You want to have that experience, and make it a priority. The spirit of the band has always been experimental, and that figures in part with these other collaborations too.”

But while billed as a proper Sunn O))) release, there are still plenty of familiar guests threaded through Kannon’s three extended passages, including synth player Rex Ritter, six-string manipulator Oren Ambarchi and multi-instrumentalist Steve Moore.

“It’s interesting because the band have always been so collaborative,” O’Malley notes. “It’s a bunch of people trying out crazy ideas in the studio and trying to get somewhere really out there. That’s the same with this record. That’s the spirit that ties these things together. It’s not like we put on this one suit and go to the office, and then take it off and go to the football game and play on the football team. It’s not that kind of a difference.”

That said, there are differences between Kannon and the band’s last release, 2014’s creepy and theatrical Soused. Unlike the bleak and unsettlingly bizarre nature of that Scott Walker team-up, Kannon is presented as a back-to-basics collection from the slow-rolling outfit, a series of simple, cyclical and sinister exercises in sonic force.

Above this is the studio return of Attila Csihar, the extreme metal vocalist that has held a mic at Sunn O))) shows for years, but who was last heard in recorded form on Monoliths & Dimensions. According to O’Malley, the vocalist’s sickening sneers and throaty cries are key to Kannon’s success.

“Somehow, Kannon, it’s him! It centres around him in a lot of ways,” the guitarist theorizes, though clarifying of the democratic union of Sunn O))). “It’s not a refocusing on him, it’s just that he’s part of this music, and the spirit of the record.”

O’Malley and the rest of Sunn O))) are hoping listeners consider the various aspects and implications of their oddly blissful drones this time around. Liner notes composed by critical theorist Aliza Shvarts attempt to draw parallels between the band’s meditative form of metal and Buddhist theory, though the grander idea is to have listeners contemplate their own engagement with Sunn O))).

“The idea is to suggest some other possibilities of perceiving this music. It’s not like it’s a religious record, or a conceptual Buddhist music record. It has more to do with spirit, attitude, perspective and perception,” O’Malley explains, though he ultimately leaves the interpretation of Kannon up to us.

“It’s abstract music, so there’s a lot of ways to do it. This is part of the presentation. It’s not a great message, it’s more of a possibility of one.”

Kannon is out now on Southern Lord.




3 responses to “Sunn O))) Get Back “Out There” on ‘Kannon’

  1. Heather Stoddard

    What has this got to do with Buddhist art? Dont like it.

    Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2015 13:01:06 +0000 To:

    • I admit that the connection is slim — the album is named for Kannon. The artists admit “It’s not like it’s a religious record, or a conceptual Buddhist music record. It has more to do with spirit, attitude, perspective and perception.”

  2. This article:

    Provides some more context for this records Buddhist connection:

    This past February, the Brooklyn Rail published an essay on black metal by the critical theorist and artist Aliza Shvarts. “Metal is an overwhelmingly white and heteromasculinist subculture,” she wrote. “Yet as such, it offers something useful to a prurient queer feminist interest…metal is a relevant site to dark radical queers and feminists precisely because it is usually not for us but
    about us.” She proceeds her argument not by decrying sexism in metal music, but rather by singling out of one the genre’s more avant-garde outfits, Sunn O))).

    For the band’s seventh studio album—titled Kannon, their first in six years—O’Malley had turned the band’s attention to the calm and merciful manner of the Buddha. “[In Buddhist teaching] ‘Kannon’ is the aspect that hears the suffering of the universe and then transforms that energy into compassion and relief,” O’Malley tells me during an interview in Brooklyn’s East River Park. He adds that Kannon is usually depicted in Zen teachings as a female Buddha. It was during the band’s exploration of this concept back in February that Shvarts’ article was published.

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