With such a possibly historic occasion as the Earth versus Sunn0))) tour one could have expected the Night of the Behemoths… it wasn’t to be, but morphitic plateaus were traversed, stygian depths were plumbed. The dead souls of Berlin congregated (coagulated) in the communist-atheistic sanctorum of the Volksbühne. For once, having to sit down during a concert made sense. Drinking a bottle of cough medicine as a chaser would also make sense. For you see, here we are in the domain of the Ultra-Heavy Bottom-End Noise (hereafter referred to as U.B.N.), a place where guitar freaks, doomers, minimalists and the wilfully peverse meet.
Alleged cult-band Earth are godfathers of this scene, having a pedigree of preternatural puissance: early recordings with Kurt Cobain, main-man Dylan Carlson sells Kurt that fatal shotgun, signed to Sub-Pop records as the droney pendant to Nirvana, years of droning on the road and in the studio segue into years of smack, Carlson cleans up, recruits female drummer, discovers melodies (sort of), reconstitutes band to record after 9 years hiatus. Since then, the acceptable face of the marketable avant-garde (Jim O’Rourke, Autechre, Mogwai… Bill Laswell cannot be far away) have all lain tribute in the form of remixes at the feet of the sonorous Ceasars. At sometime during this long arduous journey, Earth became an insider-tip for those on the more outre fringes of metal, inspiring another generation to take up the Mighty Coda, the Ominous Drone. Hence, naturally, Sunn0))).
Sunn0))) take their name from Earth’s live album “Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars”, but go even further by trying to incorporate the actual logotype of the amp firm into their moniker (thats the O))) bit, folks). Make no mistake, an unruly guitar and amp tech-fetish lurks about this scene, as does a certain original-grunge nostalgia… but at this point, the connection to rock-tradition begins the blur. Equally as slow-drag as Earth, Sunn0))) use more overt black-metal stylings (in murky slow-motion, mind you) but in some ways this stuff is as closely related to Merzbow and Whitehouse as it is to Black Sabbath. Not that I wish to imply similarities of content, or even content, period. Stephen O’Malley (guitar and hissing) and Greg Anderson (you guessed it, guitar plus he owns the record company Southern Lord who release Sunn0))), Earth and all manner of deathmetal and, er, Dronecraft) have opted for the avant-path, and their reducto-ad-absurdum approach is commendable in theory at least.However, on to the post mortem…
I missed Shit&Shine by a whisker… I was trying to order a drink during their brief set (20 minutes, one riff, from what I heard). It seemed to have some energy, in contrast to:
Ladies and Gentlemen, the kings of U.B.N., Earth! After a somewhat despondant intro (isolated piano notes, modal guitar pickings and a few mooings from that most rocking of instruments, the trombone), Earth coalesced into a kind of melancholic blues band, playing minor mode after flattened progression… very arid stuff to say the least. Reminding me of the Dirty Three on nembutal, this called for a radical restructuring of awareness implementation. Like a sinister attention-altering drug, seconds began to decelerate into minutes, minutes took on the stature of agonised hours… there was indeed something tangibly smacky about the vibe being generated. One by one, the audience went on the nod, caught up in the spirit of reflective no-thoughts, the self that is not the self and so on. A surprisingly restrained stage presentation, no light show and played at moderate volume, I guess this represents the later, “mature” Earth. Anyway, the son is father to the man, as they say, and so on to:
Sunn0))), the new Oberführers of U.B.N.! Two fog machines pointing upwards spurted like little vulcanos or geysers, creating a primordial setting… when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Gliding forth from the night and fog appeared… the Monkees! No, about 4 or 5 cowled crusaders weilding guitars. Neo-Gregorians bringing us their post-modern Te Deum, the first half hour was pretty good. Low frequency sinewave rumblings, all the volume, enough to rattle your amalgam fillings loose. Every number sounds like the final thrashings of a metal band shortly before the fadeout, only expanded to colossal (15 minutes long) dimensions. Hyperoverdriven guitars flail about like dying Brontosauruses howling their defiance at the ice-age. After a while, the liturgy, the monk’s costumes, the whole ex cathedra trip begins to take hold. There was something of the Revivalist prayer rally about the whole thing… it’s all a matter of faith… Do YOU believe? At no time did the frequencies ever climb to a comfortable 10 or 20 khz, but that probably contributed to the overall (intentional?) atmosphere of deadening, a compressing of the spirit. What could be a fitting punishment for these heretics? Being forced to recite the divine Marquis backwards for eternity? Such ecstacy can only be endured for brief periods of time, my brothers… the remaining hour became slowly wearying, then excruciating and finally unendurable… abreaction and release could not be too far off… and indeed we were released, my brothers, older, wiser and with our musical sensibilities thoroughly demagnetized.