Despite its seemingly static form, the drone domain is an amorphous entity ready to be molded at the beholder’s hands. Throughout their career, Sunn O))) have understood that better than most, and their investigations into the plethora of possibilities granted by majestic soundscapes and endless feedback have bared fruits. The raw essence of their early days, the blackened investigations of Black One and the avant-garde glory of Monoliths & Dimensions stand as monuments to time, forever displaying the dark and oppressive music that Sunn O))) have been awakening.
Sunn O))) always drew energy from a primal, primordial place. Additional flourishes on top of this dominant foundation have expanded their sound to great extents, resulting in works of multifaceted glory, be it in Monoliths & Dimensions or the band’s exquisite collaboration with the legend that is Scott Walker. Yet, in 2019 Sunn O))) decided to take a step back with Life Metal, returning to their place of origin. The record saw them at their most minimal, stripping away much of their additional instrumentation in favor of their roaring guitars. That nostalgic retreat worked perfectly in combination with the change in the production helm. The band this time recorded with the great Steve Albini, a move that provided Life Metal with its distinctly organic quality. It was a bright moment within the abyssal landscape that Sunn O))) have been painting, a move away from the chthonic and into the astral.
Pyroclasts now arrives as a companion piece to Life Metal. The four tracks collected in this work were produced during the recording sessions of Life Metal and were primarily performed as a meditative exercise. At the beginning or end of each recording day, Stephen O’Malley, Greg Anderson, and collaborators Tim Midyett, Hildur Gudnadottir, and T.O.S would venture into a magical journey to attune their individual creativity to the grand scheme of Life Metal. The sessions clocked in at about 12 minutes, therefore not allowing this practice to venture too far into unknown territories, yet the four resulting pieces are covering much of the key points of the band’s latest album.
Pyroclasts oozes with the same bright quality of Life Metal. The piercing start to “Ascension (A)” melts within the heavy feedback of the impenetrable guitars. That is not a simple wall of sound effect, but an all-encompassing, encircling experience. It is a moment of asphyxiating meditation that Sunn O))) invoke, as the sparse guitar strums slowly transform the soundscapes with brilliant colors. It is the guitar tonality and the distortion flavors that Sunn O))) have picked in this case that allow their ideas to evolve through a kaleidoscopic palette of colors instead of the typical monochrome aspect of drone music. The dissonant parts of “Ampliphaedies (E)” arrives with more traction and intricacy through this choice, as the subtle presence of Gudnadottir beneath the layers of feedback gives rise to a whole different dimension with delicate undertones.
This companion chapter does not see Sunn O))) breaking new ground, but it recaptures the spark of Life Metal. The dominant overtures of “Kingdoms (G)”, with their sharp leads and the distant, echoing samples make you feel at the presence of something truly exalted. Similarly, the elation into ethereal, glacial sovereignty with “Frost (C)” explodes the drone aesthetic, creating an existential journey through abstracted forms. It is a work that re-affirms Life Metal and reminds everyone of the potent quality of Sunn O))).