AMN Reviews: Sunn O))) – Metta, Benevolence BBC 6Music: Live on the invitation of Mary Anne Hobbs (2021; Southern Lord)

This is an hour-long live-in-the-studio session from drone-metal legends Sunn O))). The lineup is expanded, with leaders Stephen O’Malley (electric guitar and synths) and Greg Anderson (electric guitar and synths) joined by Tos Nieuwenhuizen (synths), Stephen Moore (trombone and synths), Tim Midyett (electric bass guitar and synths), and Anna von Hausswolff (voice and synths on the first half). As expected, there is no shortage of distorted and overdriven riffs, sculpted feedback, and synth chording. Also as expected, there is little that resembles a rhythm or a beat in the conventional sense.

Nonetheless, two factors are notable. First, at the time of recording, they had just come off of a long tour supporting their pair of 2019 albums, Pyroclasts and Life Metal. While they stick to the rough formulae of those tracks, each collaborator was able to color outside the lines with a bit more confidence. Second, Anna von Hausswolff adds wordless chants and vocal drones to the mix. This is not the first time that Sunn O))) has employed voice – indeed, Life Metal had a bit – but it adds further nuance.

The opening two tracks are variations from the Pyroclast sessions, the first of these more grinding and the second with walls of overlaid synth and cosmic tones. The vocals are subtle, and like many aspects of what goes into a Sunn O))) recording, occasionally sub-aural. Nonetheless, von Hausswolff’s voice provides haunting textures when it appears side-by-side with the other instruments.

Troubled Air, the final offering, was originally recorded with Anthony Pateras on pipe organ. More in the “classic” Sunn O))) style, it begins with dense noise walls from O’Malley and Anderson, with synths matching or counterpointing chord changes. Nonetheless, the track slowly builds with the guitars employing short themes in addition to the feedback-laden drones. The guitars dominate less as it evolves, with the synths providing horn-like and spacious melodies. The result is far from monolithic. Instead, Troubled Air exhibits amoeba-like qualities, constantly changing and reforming itself around core structure.

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