There’s no contention that Sunn O))) masterminds Greg Anderson & Stephen O’Malley have remained active in the six years since Monoliths & Dimensions (2009). This year alone (before Kannon was even announced), Anderson’s doom metal side project Goatsnake released Black Ages Blue, and O’Malley composed an orchestral piece named Gruidés, demonstrating both men’s persistent musical restlessness. More notably were last year’s highest-profile Sunn collaborations yet, with Anderson & O’Malley adding Ulver (Terrestrials)and Scott Walker (Soused) to an already impressive list that includes Boris, Earth, Merzbow and Nurse With Wound. Yet, even after considering all of these excursions, anyone lauding Kannon as the first “true” Sunn record since M&D clearly hasn’t been tracking the evolution of the monumental drone-doom duo.
ØØ VOID (2000) not only introduced Sunn, but presented the band’s primary source of infamy: their extended demon growl guitar drones. Interpreted as either meditative genius or annoyance of the highest order, Anderson & O’Malley’s logical extension of Earth’s pioneering drone-doom has become an inherent definition of the Sunn name since its inception. But as early as their sophomore album Flight of the Behemoth (2002), this assertion has become an increasingly inaccurate typecasting of Sunn’s sound. Each subsequent Sunn release has added more vocals, guitar variations, field recordings and additional instrumentation to the band’s arsenal and redefined the guitar drone as a prominent feature of their sound rather than its sole defining characteristic. M&D presented a true culmination of this progression, containing brass, woodwind, string and choral elements to craft what is perhaps Sunn’s greatest record thus far.
What’s so interesting about Kannon is its adherence and digression from both the aforementioned trend and many of Sunn’s core tenants. Composed of three pieces of a 36 minute whole, Kannon is Sunn’s shortest release by a healthy margin, though the overall delivery decodes into a singular experience. But despite Kannon‘s length, Anderson & O’Malley took an incredibly detail-oriented approach for the record, enlisting critical theorist Aliza Shvartz for detailed liner notes and designer/artist Angela LaFont Bollinge to craft a sculpture of the album’s namesake for the cover art. Kannon‘s conceptual richness centers around a concept/deity/goddess of mercy present in several Asiatic religions, with one Chinese iteration of her likeness translating to “The One Who Perceives the Sounds (or Cries) of the World.” Such lush treatment insinuates a great deal of pride in Kannon from Anderson & O’Malley, causing the plunge into the album to be steeped with anticipation for the effort’s success, as well as a bit of worry that such a carefully planned project might become Sunn’s first significant flop.
This worry is quelled once “Kannon 1” appears with chords that evoke the image of an all-encompassing sunrise. A distinct feeling of illuminated debauchery springs forth; repeating, urgent guitars echo across the world and its treachery. It’s early, and said evil is still slumbering, nestled within the shadows of the loading sun. Frequent Sunn collaborator Attila Csihar (Mayhem) appears within the progression of the track to provide one styling from his incomparable vocal range. As gurgling sighs seep from his throat, he takes on the role of the world, similarly traveling through the process of an awakening. While sinister, his cries bear weariness; underneath the surface sneer lies a weakened soul. Building guitars, electronics and noise indicate that outstretched rays have traced their fingertips across the full breadth of the world’s inhabitants, before suddenly subduing into everyday sunlight and tumbling into the album’s second statement.
“Kannon 2” opens with a guitar refrain, fluctuating between an anxious cry and a bellow in the vein of Sunn’s stereotypical style. A deeper growl joins the electric chorus as a vocal one joins the fray, periodically delivering chants in the vein of incantations. Contextually, it seems as though those living within the exposed wickedness of the world are calling to Kannon for some transmission of her mercy. Time passes, and nothing…until the faint melody of jangling chimes vibrates in the distance. It feels like the aural representation of a celestial aura; a sign of pureness and hope amid the darkness. Yet, as quickly as it appeared, it is swept away, consumed in a torrent of oppressive noise and reverb. It feels as though Kannon herself attempted to peer through a murk that couldn’t be overcome.
The weeping guitars present before are now in full force on “Kannon 3.” What was previously a somewhat confident electric refrain has transformed into a bowing drone backbone and dreary panic chords, both wrought with hopelessness. And though the chanting continues, its dedication doesn’t; incantation slowly slipping into eulogy. Then, as the panic chords hit a higher note of anxiety, Attila’s breathy gurgles appear once more, now rotted and contorted. He’s no longer weary, but tortured, epitomizing a true cry from the world rather than typical earthly sounds. In knowing that Kannon has been forced out of the human landscape, Attila wretches to the open sky, the sound of the world calling in utter desperation for merciful absolution. But it’s to no avail; the track swells into a high-pitched feedback drone, and when the final blip of cacophony clicks off into silence, its clear that the efforts of the world have been futile. Kannon is gone; despair has triumphed.
It’s both unclear and unimportant whether the summation of this trio should be considered a “true” Sunn album. Comparatively, Kannon is more of an EP by Sunn standards due to its terse length. But what Kannon forgoes in run-time it accentuates in concept and delivery. Regardless of what Kannon is considered, it will remain a succinct but potent statement that capitalizes on every single strength of the drone genre to deliver one of Sunn’s finest offerings to date. It likely won’t be long until we hear from Anderson & O’Malley again, but if Kannon ends up initiating a complete Sunn hiatus of any length of time, it will have provided fans with a pristine reminder why that wait would be worth every moment.
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Sunn O)))’s Kannon gets…