ALBUM REVIEW: Sunn O))) – Life Metal

Release Date: April 26th 2019
Label: Southern Lord
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For the uninformed, Sunn O))) are an experimental/drone metal band hailing from the USA. Having not long celebrated their 20th anniversary, latest record ‘Life Metal’ marks their eighth studio record, and signifies one half of a dual release in 2019, with second half ‘Pyroclasts’ due later in the year.

Produced and mixed by Steve Albini (Shellac, Neurosis, Nirvana), the album was released on Record Store Day, and went onto become the 19th best-selling record on that day.

Previous collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s vocals gradually come into the mix after about five minutes of opening track, ‘Between Sleipnir’s Breaths’, but they’re mainly lost in the swathe of hazy guitar riffs that each last for seconds on end. Continuing with atmospherically intense bass drops that pepper the background here and there, it’s a real hypnotic trip.

‘Troubled Air’ does contain a slightly anthemic aspect to it about halfway through as the pitch intensifies slightly (although this is six minutes into the song), but it’s hard to distinguish between tracks as the sounds pretty much blur into a droning morass. Albini allegedly recorded the album solely on analogue tape in a live environment, which in some ways adds to the mystery and fuzziness of the overall sound, but on the other hand adds to the levels of confusion and frustration when trying to pick your way through the denseness.

‘Aurora’ clocks in at nineteen minutes (yes, nineteen) and produces yet more of the same instrumental noise, whilst final track ‘Novæ’ produces the longest example of droning low-end sounds at just over 25 minutes long. Quite how to unpick these last two tracks is something that is immensely difficult to do. There are no hooks, vocal tics, beatdowns, or riffs that could possibly begin to distinguish these tracks from one another. Quite simply, it’s music to meditate to or more likely to possibly smoke to.

Despite being critically well received, ‘Life Metal’ is certainly an acquired taste. It’s mysterious and playful, but often destructive and confusing in equal measures, and this lends to an overall frustrating listen.