Album Review: Sunn O))) – Kannon




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The dark, droning metal of Sunn O))) must be approached with a reverence for its spiritual and aesthetic values. You don’t just listen to Sunn; you experience it. Built on repetition and atmosphere, the ambience created by Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson encourages introspection from its audience and a listening environment that allows such. The music of Sunn has become viable in the realms of yoga (aka Black YO)))ga) because of its visceral, transportive qualities.

Kannon carries on many of those traditions, emphasizing meditative drones across a tri-movement piece. Per the album’s press release, “Kannon” literally represents an aspect of Buddha: the “goddess of mercy” or “perceiving the sounds (or cries) of the world.” To classify Kannon as an album relegates it to the commercial framework of recorded music and economic product, demeaning some of that spiritual allure. Sunn seek to defy that consumerist inevitability, essentially creating a mixed media art project around the release of Kannon. Critical theorist Aliza Shvartz was commissioned to write liner notes, and Swiss designer Angela LaFont created the abstract sculpture on the cover — “a vision of Kannon”. A unified message is spread across multiple mediums, and it’s this amorphous form of expression that makes Sunn such a musical anomaly: The music is a vehicle for expressing beliefs and ideas, not a means unto itself.

Taken at face value, these are bleak, cold soundscapes — not as empty and cavernous as Black One, Sunn’s most metal album, but still icy. “Kannon I” follows a monolithic bass, repeating a pair of notes at the pace of a crawl. Above the feedback, Attila Csihar voice drones as deep and vivid as any musical instrument. He forms words so slowly that they are indistinguishable, falling in with the general ambience of the piece. As Sunn’s go-to vocalist, Csihar has become an inseparable element of their sound, and he steals the show here with some of his finest improvisatory work, which falls somewhere between the emotive howls of dark metal and the modal vocal music of India. His Gregorian-style chants highlight the second movement — a repetitious build-up to “Kannon III”, the climactic closer.

Though it is separated into the three tracks, Kannon is very much a singular piece, the first two movements building naturally and organically to the finale. All of the themes and motifs introduced throughout the album coalesce into a flourishing swell in “Kannon III”: O’Malley’s guitar cries, Csihar’s muted notes turn to shrieks, and piercing feedback cuts the darker textures like a ray of light peeking through a wall of nimbus clouds. Then it’s over. At a mere 35 minutes, Kannon is a fleeting journey. But in that allotted time, Sunn do what they do best, crafting an inescapable atmosphere of flowing drone metal, and as a whole, it’s arguably their best composition to date.

Essential Tracks: “Kannon I-III”