FW Week 3: Meditation Through Devastation
Welcome to Free Writes Week 3!
If you knew me growing up, then you would know my taste in music was somewhat narrow. Because I was really only exposed to Country music when I was young, when I first heard Hard Rock and Metal, I took on that classic, rebellious teenager role. At the time, I thought I was hardcore, listen to bands such as LInkin Park, Korn, Static-X, and other similar industrial and Nu-Metal acts. It wasn’t until high school, however, when I was exposed to more extreme metal in the vein of Cradle of Filth, Pig Destroyer, Skinless, Arch Enemy, DevilDriver, Cephalic Carnage, and Six Feet Under. Eventually I moved on to more experimental bands like Meshuggah, Animals As Leaders, Scale the Summit, Periphery, Mats/Morgan Band, and others that leaned more towards jazz than any other metal band I used to listen to. As I entered my late 20’s, I even started incorporating hip-hop into my music library; something that teenage Ian would be very much against. But that is what happens, I guess, as we get older, our music tastes change. Now, I hardly listen to music, as I am more frequently listening to podcasts. It comes with the new life, that near 30 year old Ian has taken on. I need to listen to the latest episode on politics and philosophy because I must stay current for writing and my own podcast. However, one music group has stuck with me since my teenage years, and that is the ‘band’ sunn O))).
Simply pronounced ‘sun’, they are a experimental drone band, headed by guitarists Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson. For over a decade, they have been the leading act in the underground extreme drone scene. Their sound is best described as pummeling, meditative, and extremely loud; as the phrase ‘maximum volume yields maximum results’ is pasted somewhere on each physical release of their albums. Some of their more notable LP’s include Flight of the Behemoth, White 1/2, Black One, and Monoliths & Dimensions, with their latest release titled Life Metal, out last Friday. I wanted to bring them up today, not just to praise an excellent music group, but to talk about the sonic experience that they have had on me.
While their earlier albums had a similar style and themes shared, every release gave a new take on a sound that sunn O))) alone was pioneering. Yes, they were highly influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Earth, as well as the stoner and doom metal acts from the late 90’s, but their particular interpretation of the medium was and remains unique. Black One, arguably their most famous and notable work, has a black metal flare with themes coming straight out of horror films, reminiscent of books from H.P. Lovecraft. Monoliths & Dimensions took their sound in a new direction: while still retaining the heavy, down-tuned and distorted guitars, they incorporated more symphonic elements, even including a cathedral organ and string arrangements. Life Metal continues this trend as they bring on Hildur Guðnadóttir, an Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist, adding a sense of angelic brevity to the already devastating 10+ minute songs. Now you may be asking yourself, how can someone stand to listen to such loud and intense music such as this? I think that if you are open to new experiences, especially from a minimalist perspective, then sunn O)))’s music can have meditative effects. Listening to one of their albums on a stereo at high volumes, or better yet, seeing them live in concert, close to the stage, has bodily effects that I never had expected.
“Have you ever breathed a frequency?” This is a common phrase posted on patches, T-shirts, albums, and other merchandise that the band produces, and it’s a viable question to ask, once you’ve realized how one can feel at a sunn O))) concert. When I personally saw them in 2012, I positioned myself close to the stage, thankfully wearing earplugs, and was barraged by multiple waves of droning distortion, dissonant tones, shrieking and guttural vocal performances, and synthetic bass that dropped so low in frequency that I thought only for a moment that there was an earthquake. This sounds anxiety inducing, but in fact, it had the opposite effect on me; instead feelings of calm and sublimity. Now certainly, I can imagine not everyone having this effect from this kind of music. But I think it is worth giving a chance.
So much of metal’s history has been overshadowed by the stereotype of violence and making people act aggressive towards one another, but that simply isn’t true. And to help cure this stereotype, I think everyone should be exposed to the most extreme band out there, in every sense of the word. See you next week.