Why Sunn O))) Just Doesn't Work For Me

As time has worn on, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more towards the doom end of the metal spectrum, to the point where I’m willing to proclaim it my favorite subgenre in said spectrum. The louder, heavier, slower and longer the better(that’s what she said!). There’s very little in this little burg of extreme music that I won’t listen to-from the hard rock leanings of The Sword and Red Fang to the petrifying death attack of My Dying Bride and Ramesses to the just generally brain numbing stupidity of Bongzilla, it’s rare that I’ll find something that doesn’t appeal to me in some fashion or another.

More recently, I’ve found myself becoming drawn towards that most challenging of subterranean scenes, drone doom. Earth’s Special Low Frequency Version was the originator of the genre and has rocketed into my top 100 with startling speed. Likewise, Boris has plopped out a few masterpieces in this regard, and from what I’ve heard of them, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine sounds exactly my speed. It seems that there’s just one last gate I have yet to crash through in fully understanding what is arguably one of the most intimidating types of music that is, and that gate is Sunn O))). Unfortunately, it’s a barrier that I don’t think will come down anytime soon.

I’ve been trying to figure out precisely what it is that pushes me away from Sunn O))), besides the obvious reason of having to type out that fucking name every time I bring them up. Interestingly, the guitarist for the group, Stephen O’Malley, plays for several other done bands that I’ve very much enjoyed, but time after time Sunn O)))’s appeal eludes me. There are two reasons I’ve come up with as to why they don’t work for me, and both are reasons that make the band somewhat antithetical to the ethos of drone as I personally understand it.

The first reason is that Sunn O))) play all of their songs in chunks. They are long chunks, mind you, generally no shorter than ten minutes but no longer than twenty five. Complaining that not-quite-half-an-hour is too short is something that only a total crazy person would do, and yet here I sit in my tinfoil hat, trying to get the moon on speed-dial. One of the ways I view drone doom is as the warped, demented twin brother of Romantic classical music. Both aim to be awe-inspiring in their scope and ambition, but where classical is technically intricate and ornate, drone is stagnant and repetitious. Whereas this era of classical attempts to achieve intensity through majesty, drone attempts the same feat through monolithic singularity. It attempts to drown the listener with a subtly morphing unity of Cyclopean ambition. In order to achieve this, drone doom is best delivered as a single song, generally 45 minutes or longer. If the listener is more willing to commit themselves for a long duration of time, the music has a greater chance of solidifying itself as a Goliath that demands total attention. Anything shorter and the song loses its power: a titanic epic simply turns into a man playing the same riff for far too long to be interesting and not long enough to have any sense of grandeur.

The second important reason why I think Sunn O))) is second to its contemporaries is because they don’t fully embrace the total minimalism that the genre needs to make itself so alien and captivating. Since Flight of the Behemoth, Sunn O))) has introduced elements such as classical orchestrations and intricate vocal arrangements to pile on top of their gigantic riffs. You might think that such flourishes would help keep the music from growing stale, but on the contrary, I think it strips away what makes the genre so appealing: That breathtaking, inescapable sense of immersion in utterly foreign and beguiling musical territory evaporates the moment I have something else to compare it to. For the same effect that Monoliths and Dimensions is aiming for, I could listen to the orchestral works of Krzysztof Penderecki. For the total horror of Black One I could get similar satisfaction from a Nurse With Wound album. If I want to hear the overwhelming, ear shattering guitar intensity that Earth’s Special Low Frequency Version offers, however, I don’t have any other alternatives. And if the sweeping buildup and haunting crescendo of Boris’ Flood were reliant on anything but three people squeezing every last drop of heavy out of their instruments, I wouldn’t have much reason to listen to that, either.

My point, overall, is this: I don’t dislike Sunn O))). But that said, I have no reason to listen to them. As a drone band, their contemporaries match them with a far greater level of commitment to the form. As ambient horror, many avant-garde classical and industrial groups have already beaten them to the punch at perfecting that sickening feeling of dread which is so necessary to making their music worthwhile. I don’t need both delivered at the same time, especially when they have the effect of watering each other down.

Do you disagree? Of course you do. Tell me why I’m a big fat idiot and Sunn O))) is the raddest.



  1. Meh, I'd agree with you that the straight guitars approach makes for a more satisfying record. Have you heard ØØ Void ? that's pretty much just riffage, no extra gubbins.

    Having said that, they're still *wel*l worth checking out live for sheer chest-shaking bass weight & silly theatrics.

  2. Chris, you're a big fat idiot and Sunn 0))) is the raddest. No, but actually, I'd say it's really really hard to say that you could substitute other music for them, I've never heard anything that sounds even remotely like them. Not even remotely.