Sunn O))) - Life Metal - (8.5/10)
Published on May 6, 2019
Four years after the release of “Kannon”, an album considered as a letdown by great part of their fanbase, American drone/doom metallers Sunn O))) strike back with “Life Metal”, proving us that they’re far from done with their unique brand of dark ambient music. It’s incredible how these skilled musicians are capable of combining seemingly unappealing, minimalistic chord patterns, revolving around feedback, low tunings and heavy distortion (to create the characteristing drone sound), to create extremely evocative, awe-inspiring epics, almost throwing the listener in a real trance state. Going straight to the point, I’ll tell you this: “Life Metal” is nothing less that one of their top tier creations, up there with their older classics “Black One” and “Monoliths and Dimensions”.
Sunn O))) never venture too far from their comfort zone, and all the elements of their trademark sound are fully displayed for the whole duration of their newest release, making “Life Metal” another welcomed addition to the band’s catalogue. On the other hand, Sunn O))) have always been able to stay true to their roots, while also throwing in tiny bits of innovation, to spice things up a bit: if “Black One” was a gloomy, stifling, mournful and dark journey stained in black metal fashion, and “Monoliths and Dimensions” was an evocative, mystical, arcane, transdimensional and timeless experience, introducing symphonic and choral elements, “Life Metal” strips Sunn O)))’s music back to the bone, resulting in what is probably their most aetheric release to date.
Imagine being at the slopes of a huge, massive mountain, whose summit is concealed by clouds. Then a strong wind blows the clouds away, revealing the top of the impressive mountain: for a few seconds, you are left speechless, completely overwhelmed by the sense of timelessness, stateliness and utter grandiose splendour of this endlessly imponent monolith. Then you realize its vastness is too much for your mind to fully comprehend, and you are left paralized, cold, pale, subjugated by an arcane, primitive terror, staring at the rocky monster rising in front of you, but at the same time feeling a deep respect towards this natural wonder. These are the exact feelings the careful listener will be subjected to while listening to “Life Metal”. An aetheric, evoking release, at the same time so vast and awe-inducing to result almost terrifying. Needless to say, even the beautiful, artistic album cover perfectly matches the songs, proving once again the great amount of care these musicians put in their efforts.
The album lasts for nothing less than sixty-nine minutes, and the platter is composed of only four tracks. “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” is probably the most aetheric and dreamy track of the release, repeating the same chord progression for great part of its duration in pure doom metal fashion, just to throw in some fantastic, transcendental-sounding, mystic female vocals starting from the mid of the song: a perfect way to open the album, for sure. “Troubled Air” is the purest incarnation of the feelings I described in the paragraph above, featuring an interesting use of the pipe organ and of some keyboard effects (I think) resembling the sound of a magical, gentle little bell. “Aurora” is the most minimalistic and sinister track of the lot, while “Novae” features in its first part a chord progression that comes close to resembling a more “traditional” metal riff, while the second half of the song (whose overall duration amounts to nothing less than 25 minutes) revolves around pure feedback experimentation, matched by an incredible cello part that at first almost completely merges with the guitars, to progressively detach and become something with an identity of his own.
With “Life Metal” Sunn O))) strip their music back to the core elements, while at the same time retaining tiny bits of the experimental and fully successful solutions adopted with their fantastic “Monoliths and Dimensions”. A great comeback for a band that, while playing in its comfort zone as always, is still capable of sounding fresh and inspired, making minimal but effective variations to its trademark formula.