It’s been 6 long years since the last proper Sunn O))) record, 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions. That album brought forth some significant embellishments to Sunn O)))’s core formula of dreary and oppressive drone, and was one of their most ambitious and talked about projects to date. Since then, we’ve received some collaborative efforts, including a project with Ulver and the nigh impenetrable Soused with Scott Walker, but not a true follow up to Monoliths.
For Kannon, Sunn O))) strips the experimentation back significantly, while continuing their tradition of thoughtful and excellent collaboration with a slew of talented musicians. Those familiar with their discography will be happy to know that Mayhem’s Attila Csihar returns for his fourth appearance, delivering vocal performances on all three (yes, all) tracks. Also included are longtime collaborators Oren Ambarchi, Steve Moore, and Rex Ritter delivering additional guitars and synths. The result is a somewhat simplistic yet effective record of atmospheric drone, and a worthwhile undertaking for those who like their metal low, slow and loud.
Kannon presents a strong sense of cohesion and relative simplicity throughout its three tracks, an unexpected change after the exercise in experimental contrast that was Monoliths and Dimensions. The record revolves around a uniform concept, taking inspiration from East Asian religious iconography. Adherence to this concept has yielded a strongly unified piece of music in three movements.
There is a strong undercurrent of meditative qualities to the music, and Sunn O))) reins in their penchant for dreary oppression a bit, while simulataneously unifying the material. This focus is enhanced by the decision to narrow the spectrum of sound, stripping out horns, bells and other instrumentals in favour of driving guitar sprinkled with synthesizer to taste.
Stephen O’Malley, Greg Anderson and crew excel in the implementation of these additional layers of sound, building the compositions subtly and effectively along the one-dimensional pathway set out by the drone formula. “Kannon 1” is really the tone setter for the rest of the LP, and kicks things off in a way which attempts to mirror the live performance. Attila Csihar sounds great here, providing throaty vocals which sit more in the background as a textural sonic element than as a main focus. Feedback swells constantly assault the senses, and then at the 11-minute mark with only one minute left, the instrumentals start winding down as synthesizer sweeps (were they even there before?) start washing through your psyche like the waves on a demented ocean. It’s this subtle build and change in tone and timbre that makes Sunn O))) so interesting to those that can bear the narrow path to get there.
While the tempo doesn’t stray from the glacial drone pace, there are plenty of flavors in the instrumentals to keep things interesting. “Kannon 2” features some very cool chanting courtesy of Attila, whose performance is consistently excellent throughout the record. This track also features some more of the more intense instrumental sections on the record, the build up to the beginning of the vocal being a great moment of sonic tension, and an excellent precursor to said vocal.
“Kannon 3” closes out the relatively short run-time, and is the highlight of the record when all things are taken into consideration. The piercing wail of the guitars cuts through the intense, almost apocalyptic bassy rumble (some of the heaviest on the record), and features some really great bellowed lyrics layered on top. It really speaks to the production that these parts are able to work together without sounding busy or muddled. The track really does act as the culmination of the previous 20 minutes, and provides a good palette of sonic texture with which to close out the record.
As is customary with outings by Sunn O))), greater volume levels yield greater results. Playing the LP on the highest quality sound system available comes highly recommended, and will greatly enhance the experience. The richness of the tones and timbre, and the subtleties of the instrumentals is essentially Sunn O)))’s main draw, and laptop speakers just will not do this record justice.
I don’t have too many negative things to say about Kannon. If anything, the record shows a distinct lack of major ambition or risk-taking following the very diverse sounds on Monoliths and Dimensions, as the record is essentially an enhancement of what the band chooses to convey in the live setting with only a few extra accouterments. The conceptual focus, the narrowed sonic spectrum, and the driving instrumentals combined with the cohesive lyrical passages all work in the record’s favor. Those who have high expectations of creative risk-taking following Monoliths may be disappointed by the stripped back approach, but Kannon is a great sounding record of atmospheric drone with many parts worth savoring. Its execution exhibits an attention to detail allowing the simplified premise of the record to be fully appreciated by those willing to put in the time to listen carefully.