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Music Review: Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions

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In their exploration of tone and noise as it courses through the bloodstream at absurdly high volumes, Sunn O))) has always been a fascinating band. Originally formed as a tribute to Earth, Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson have continued to explore the remote reaches of the sonic arena with albums that have meshed drone with elements of black metal and dark ambient music.

With their latest album, however, Sunn O))) expands the channels and finds a sense of broadness and sophistication that can only be described as fucking brilliant.

Monoliths & Dimensions is a vast work of art. O’Malley and Anderson have built this beast over the course of two years, assembling it piece by piece with countless collaborators.

Sunn O)))’s usual face-melting mindfuck is well in place of course, as the drop-tuned electric bass and guitars make for a jaw-crushing institution no matter what the volume is set at. Never content to simply press on with mere feedback, O’Malley and Anderson investigate the boundaries of sound with every single chord. This time out, however, the process is even more engaging.

The collaborators range from Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar to Australian guitar player Oren Ambarchi. A Viennese women’s choir, led by Persian vocalist Jessika Kenney, provides more intensity than conceivable and conch shells and Tibetan horns meld with low-strung guitar and traditional orchestral instruments to create sounds that are, at times, hard to hear.

Monoliths & Dimensions is less about the four songs and more about the waves these giants of sound generate. It is an entirely immersion experience from beginning to end, an ingenious and immense epic of magnificence, majesty and menace that few bands could ever duplicate.

Power drone and ominous guitar opens “Aghartha” with crushing noise. The “classic” Sunn O))) resonance is soon pulled apart by Tibetan horn and conch shell, giving way to Csihar’s shadowy, spellbinding interpretation of a tale of devastation and new order.

Starting with Kenney and her choir, “Big Church” soon drops into the sludge with a four guitar assault from Anderson, O’Malley, Ambarchi, and Earth’s Dylan Carlson. The sound is overwhelming until broken up by a tubular bell and a brief lull of absolute stillness to hold off the next sonic assault.

“Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)” is a devastating wave of aggression and vocal carnage from Csihar. Crunching guitar occupies the lower end, finding Sunn O))) knocking out some rather quick riffs over a thunderous, haunting male choir and a threatening set of horns.

The album’s final track continues the process of sound exploration to its ultimate conclusion. “Alice” is an extremely enlivening musical experience. With arrangements by composer Eyvind Kang, this sonic expedition ascends like a barren climb up a secluded mountain. Built with gleaming, shifting guitar progression and an eventual payoff that sounds damn near triumphant, “Alice” is an absolutely perfect way to conclude Monoliths & Dimensions and remains one of the more overwhelming pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time.

The year’s first absolute masterpiece, Sunn O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions is an incalculably challenging piece of art. It is a forceful composition of reverberation, brutality and noise that will rattle the fixtures on the wall and shatter the margins of what music can do and, in all earnestness, what music is.

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About Jordan Richardson