perating like a band of traveling mercenaries, Sunn’s O’Malley & Anderson have taken an ad hoc approach to their recordings, ultimately determining the yield as soon as the project’s players are tapped. Add Attila; subtract Ritter; add Ambarchi and Wiese; subtract Smithson; wield Wrest and Malefic; keep Preston at bay. Nearly every decision made thus far has succeeded spectacularly: Whether stripped to its core and augmented with Bootsy Kronos’ Four String Motherfucker on Thee Grimmrobe Demos, or as heliocentrically heavy as White I’s cast of Julian Cope, “vokillist” Runhild Gamelsaeter, Rex Ritter, and drum machine warrior, Joe Preston, Sunn have triumphed, providing a highly disparate and provocative take on “Metal” that is at once so macrocosmic and focused, that it comes off as an effortlessly impassioned homage to pure “Sound” itself. Thus comes Black One, a charred “viktory” stele of crumbling granite riffs, wildly flatulent laptop scree, and shards of cadaverous baritone and night hag howl courtesy of Leviathan’s Wrest, and Xasthur’s Malefic.
Black One enjoys easy success as a “listening experience;” what truly pushes it towards the forefront of modern—and, yes, avant-garde—music is its liberal quoting from the Metal canon. Adjust the headphones – references are legion. From the yawning aboriginal drone of “Sin Nanna,” to the return to bass materials in “Orthodox Caveman,” Sunn have created a masterpiece with the aural iconography of genre’s past.
“Sin Nanna,” at once the moniker of the force behind Van Dieman’s Land’s Striborg, and the Sumerian Moon God, which rode upon a winged bull, is Black One’s briefest track; an introduction to the land that must be traveled, “Sin Nanna” sounds the fog horn, and dispatches a wealth of wraiths crawling forth in skincoats. “Sin Nanna” subsides; “It Took the Night to Believe” burns through the mist with flinty Vikernesian strumming, loosely strung fuzz, shrieks, and the commentary of Wrest, his ponderous voice nitrous oxide soaked, graveled, and pneumatic. It’s here that one realizes how effective Sunn’s drones are when delivered with Black Metal vocals over top; minutes later one’s skin is crawling along with a titanic Immortal “cover,” “Cursed Realms (of the Winter Demons),” from the canonical recording, Battles in the North.
Xasthur’s Malefic has chosen to drown his shrieks in fathoms deep guitar; murky gamelans of tone that drift by like schools of oil black eel. On “Cursed Realms,” however, voice is laid bare, enjoyed in all its unnatural violence. When O’Malley & Anderson enter with The Riff, it’s pretty fucking difficult not to cheer. Spanning Townshend’s windmill and Angus’ SG St. Vitus dance, O’Malley & Anderson have sculpted their Riff into a trope as mysteriously charged as the Kabbah, as ineffable as a Medicine Man’s peyote addled purview; it has become one of the most exhilarating sounds in music, right along with Peter Brötzmann’s paroxysmal tenor, and Wolf Eyes’ pounding Dr. Pad. “Cursed Realms” sends coal cars up a Babble Tower erected entirely out of the skulls and bones of Huns, of Heretics. Rock clamors; winds rip and wrap around shifting ground, shaking the sky, and splitting the piece into a fantastic reconciliation of power electronics and Black Metal.
Metal’s homage is taken up with “Orthodox Caveman,” an open letter of admiration snail mailed to Dylan Carlson, quoting Earth’s “Ouroboros is Broken,” and running a cracked talon around the rim of a massive Tibetan singing bowl, sealing buzzing riffs in excruciating dog-whistle whine. John Weise creeps into the piece’s coda, throwing hundreds of Sichuan opera cymbals into the throbbing fray.
“Candlegoat” and “Cry for the Weeper” assemble a phalanx of activated Luftwaffe engines. Propellers cut and beat through fetid air, sectioning off chunks of sound into pulsing and bloody physiologies. “Candlegoat” digs into the “True” Mayhem, stitching the skin of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ “Freezing Moon” over the carnage. “Cry” idles and trickles tones onto a metastasizing and farting drone, creaking like a keep’s great wooden door. A bell is clapped, and digital swaths of organ rumble sink like steel pins into dead flesh.
The bell tolls, and “Bathory Erzebet” begins. Black One’s greatest piece, “Bathory” evokes the history of the deranged Hungarian countess who thought her youthful beauty could be attained by bathing in the blood of noblemen’s daughters. With Malefic sealed in a wooden coffin, and placed in the back of a ’78 Cadillac hearse, “vokills” take on new pallor. Those who need not fight to recall flipping through stacks of Venom picture-discs at the nearest mall’s “Record Bar” will easily remember the Newcastle trio’s “Buried Alive,” which began with a slurred funeral homily and the sound of shoveled dirt. The Grimm Ambient drags even lower with “Bathory,” starting with thudding subharmonics, spreading out and shuddering to reluctant end. O’Malley & Anderson take seven minutes before they enter; Malefic’s first breaths are then audible; they are pained, dry gasps that fray like hundred year old rope in the jaws of lions. “Bathory” verges on audial “snuff;” with every second that creeps by, Malefic’s oxygen expires; unintelligible lyrics are delivered as unforgiving asphyxia.
The most conspicuous feature of Black One is the departure from an album assembled out of mountainous 15 to 20 minute riffs. Chalk this up to confidence or the mere need to experiment, O’Malley & Anderson have not only found ways to make their differing vision work, they’ve also been preternaturally adept at gathering bold and powerful contributors to articulate this vision. Sunn has sifted through wildly disparate permutations: The pulsing laboratory of White 2’s “Bassaliens,” the Wicker Man’s invocation on White 1’s “My Wall,” the low end abduction of Grimmrobe Demos’ “Defeating Earth’s Gravity.” They’ve also kept their tongues firmly in cheek, scribbling off hilarious song titles, and crediting players with instrumental contributions elemental and phenomenal. But, with Black One, the result is ponderously singular: It’s dark, grim, and fucking unforgiving, and undoubtedly the core duo’s best effort yet.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: OCTOBER 31 – NOVEMBER 6, 2005