The recent reissue of Sunn O)))’s 2000 opus ØØVOID shone a light — as much as it’s possible to illuminate such a shadowy enclave — on the band’s primordial years. A funereal pilgrimage through droning realms, ØØVOID had all the chest-crushing weight and intestinal-churning tone any fan of avant-garde metallic thrills could ever wish for. And while the band could have easily ended the lesson there, and we’d have been perfectly sated, Sunn O)))’s decision in 2007 to commission Nurse With Wound (NWW) to re-work the album was a particularly wise choice.
ØØVOID was originally tweaked and twisted by NWW to appear on a bonus disc accompanying the reissue of the album by Japanese label Daymare Recordings. The resulting work, titled The Iron Soul of Nothing, is not so much a remix but a reconstruction from the master tapes. Applying the same singular creative vision NWW’s own work is renowned for — its abstract and capricious purveyance of “sinister whimsy to the wretched” — NWW founder Steven Stapleton, along with cohort Colin Potter, completely transmogrified ØØVOID.
Choosing NWW to re-work the album in such a fashion was no happy accident. Sunn O)))’s original brief was to aim for something akin to NWW’s famed slice of dark-ambient majesty Soliloquoy for Lilith. What they got back was something Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley noted was “way beyond our expectations… a vast sonic journey, some part drone… other part concrete weirdness… third part just downright out there…” And listening to a track like “Ash on the Trees” reveals a fantastic sense of eccentricity at play — the formerly obscured vocals of Pete Stahl are mixed with harsh industrial screeches, tape hiss galore, plenty of baleful effects and a crawling, indolent riff (one of the few recognizable elements from ØØVOID you’ll hear). Given Stapleton’s and David Tibet’s history, the track’s ecclesiastical, warped chanting lends a certain Current 93 tone in parts, but its corrosive reimagining also highlights NWW’s steadfast resolve to completely dismantle ØØVOID and rebuild it from the ground-up, smearing it with its own particular brand of sonic incantations.
In truth, the results can’t have been that much of a surprise for Sunn O))). Since NWW’s inception in 1978, originator and mainstay Steven Stapleton has been crafting acclaimed avant-garde, industrial, drone and ambient works prolifically — keeping track of the band’s discography must be a nightmare for avid fans. And Stapleton is no stranger to the reinterpretation game, releasing a plethora of remixes of his own works, and collaborating with a vast swath of notable indie and experimental artists on remix albums. It seems at times as if every second NWW release is a remix of another, and that’s no complaint. Stapleton is a master at rediscovering nuance and untapped arteries of possibility.
Erecting new structures atop the über-downtempo foundations Sunn O))) laid down, NWW’s “alchemical dialysis” of ØØVOID lessens the suffocating heaviness (somewhat), but The Iron Soul of Nothing is equally as haunting as its source material. “Dysnystaxis” is all swirling, foreshadowing atmospherics. A slow building creep of layered orchestrations bedaubed with (very) darkened ambience — think Lustmord or Lull — it reverberates with subtle, ominous tones. And while its minatory splendor is highly effective, NWW’s two-part epic reconstruction of “Ra at Dawn” evokes a spine-chilling character that’ll positively ruin the lives of any fans with anxiety issues. Stripped back to its minimalist core, NWW slowly layer on susurrus effects. Whispering static and waves of glacial synth amplify the eeriness, and passages of crystalline serenity make the whole thing extremely unnerving. But the very best feature of the tracks is that NWW’s intensification of the mood never leads to a definable climax. All you’re left with is a very uneasy payoff — it’s all magnificently disturbing.
Call it what you want, a re-working, a remix or a reconstruction (I’m leaning towards a reimagining at this point), The Iron Soul of Nothing is nothing short of superb. Although the album only sounds tangentially like its original source material, the common artistic bond between Sunn O))) and NWW — that desire to mine the most disconcerting seams — is confirmed with this leviathan. NWW’s unabashed nonconformity has been put to fine use throughout its existence, but this has to be one of the greatest examples of its aberrant minimalism. Sunn O))) and NWW are a match made in Valhalla.