Sunn O)))


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When ambient drone overlords Sunn 0))) were commissioned to create a musical piece to be performed at the thousand-year-old Dømkirken Cathedral, in Bergen, Norway (aka the black metal capital of the world, where things really do go bump in the night), they were asked to take into account the sort of brooding, deliberate, low-pitched melodies typical of the Gregorian chants, which had echoed within the same walls back in the days when the Black Death was ravaging all of Europe. To which one can only imagine their response went something like: "Easy. Done. When should we show up?" After all, much Sunn 0)))'s output over the years already resembled a new millennium equivalent of Gregorian chanting, so it's quite possible that the dynamic duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley had several works in hand, ready to be adapted to this very task. So after rounding up a few well-suited collaborators like Hungarian-born vocalist Attila Csihar (he of Mayhem and general black metal legend), local electronics wiz Lasse Marnhaug, and Earth keyboardist Steve Moore (who would man the cathedral's pipe organ), the expanded Sunn 0))) not only provided a momentous grand finale for the 2007 Borealis Festival, but also captured the unique occasion for posterity, via the following year's Dømkirke release. Ah, but there's more: as a final twist (and no, we're not talking about the group's coordinated hooded monks' cloaks), it was decided that the "purity" of the event should be preserved by releasing Dømkirke only on vinyl -- not a single digital format. And without getting into the many debatable pros and cons surrounding this decision from a consumer standpoint, the fact is that a commemorative, 180-gram double-vinyl package certainly works for presenting each of the performance's four, 15-plus-minute movements, one to a side. All that said, what of the music then? Well: the first piece, entitled "Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself in Clouds?" showcases Csihar alternating between wild operatic cries and more controlled guttural croaks, above the predominantly peaceful reverie produced by Moore's sweeping organ chords; and it's not until the second piece -- named "Cannon," possibly to signify Sunn 0)))'s corruption of the canon structure for their own, perverse devices -- that Anderson and O'Malley make their entrance via characteristically earth-shaking power chords, occasionally spiked with almost horn-like electronic interjections from Marnhaug, sparse organs, and whispered/sung incantations from Csihar. Movement number three, "Cymatics," demonstrates the abrupt decay of these various elements into a throbbing mass of feedback, haunted by Csihar's petrifying howls and shrieks (sounding somewhat like dying birds of prey); and then the concluding "Masks of the Atmospheres" sees the ensemble wrestling their willful, shapeshifting sound-beast back into submission for an another powerful display of sonic seismic activities, culminating in a deafening, sustained climax. Only then, as the pulsing waves of sound gradually give way to silence, the assembled audience finally, almost begrudgingly reacts, as though snapped free, en mass, of a temporary state of hypnosis caused by Sunn 0)))'s devastating onslaught. Not bad for a one-off performance! And perhaps it is best, after all, that Dømkirke was produced in limited quantities and only on vinyl, as its contents truly work best when absorbed as a one of a kind event, than allotted alongside the natural evolution of Sunn 0)))'s discography.

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