Album Review : Sunn O))) - Life Metal (2019)
Getting new Sunn O))) music is somewhat of a cultural event in 2019. American drone metal legends Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson for the first decade of their career, but produced only one full-length album since their iconic release Monoliths & Dimensions in 2009. They tour a lot, collaborate with other artists and seem little interested in recording music unless they’re a good reason for it. Fortunately for us mortals tha, t reason came when legendary producer Steve Albini accepted to record an album with them for the band’s 20th anniversary. “Sure, this will be fun. I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he told them.
This is how Life Metal was born. It’s probably my favorite Sunn O))) full-length album since White1. It was worth the wait.
Life Metal stars with a song called Between Sleipnir’s Breaths and one thing becomes immediately clear: it doesn’t sound like the Sunn O))) you’re used to. Albeit being the second shortest song on the album, it has more breath and nuance than ever. It begins with samples of horses whinnying, moves into their classic drone and quickly transitions into high-pitched guitars and spoken words vocals by Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir. Between Sleipnir’s Breaths has clear “movements” like an opera piece or a movie sequence and that kind of new in Sunn O)))’s soundscapes. It does justice to O’Malley and Anderson’s sonic mastery.
But the real masterpiece on Life Metal , I believe, Troubled Air. The song embraces Sunn O)))’s more classic sound, but revels in a cornucopia of dark, sumptuous details: pipe organ, triangles and endless echoes that makes you feel like you’ve traveling through space. And this is where it becomes obvious how much Steve Albini’s gorgeous, pristine analog production played in their favor. It shines a powerful light on the nuances of their music. Sunn O))) are primarily known for their dark, slow-moving monoliths but if you look close enough, they are engraved with countless details. Evidence, reflections of life vibrating through the airwaves.
Aurora is the most conventional Sunn O))) song on the record. It’s not necessarily darker or more reminiscent of older material, it’s just more simple. O’Malley and Anderson do their usual thing of slowly cycling through riffs and stocking the space in between with feedback and reverb. It’s fun, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the previous two. The closer Novae is perhaps the most challenging song on Life Metal. Clocking at an insane twenty-five minutes, it’s filled with glitches, feedback and awesomely breaks down into a cello interlude from Hildur Guðnadóttir halfway through. There’s a powerful sense of death and resurrection to it.
Life Metal is awesome. The collaboration between Sunn O))) and Steve Albini really paid off as the album offer a sharpness and a wide array of sonic details and delicacies that we previously wouldn’t associate with the band. It sounds like a million fucking bucks. I can’t stress this enough. On Life Metal, the listener is not traveling through an endless void anymore, but a universe echoing with life and memories. The title might sound corny at first… but the more you listen to the album, the more it makes sense. Life Metal is a fucking powerhouse. One of Sunn O)))’s most accessible albums, but one of their most intricate and inspired as well.