Before seeing Sunn O))), I had an understanding of their trademark drone and doom-laden sound. I also knew they had a smoke-shrouded stage presence, featuring hooded figures and stacks of amplifiers.
I was curious if such a dramatic yet simple premise could keep me engaged for the promised two-hour set, and if it would only appeal to fans of a heavy-metal or doom genre. I was keen for a new experience.
I can sum the show up as heartwarmingly dark. No matter how creepy, spooky or dread-filled it got, it always felt welcoming and meditative – entrancing even.
At first, soft harmonic notes trickled out of the smoke as people entered. Then quiet fell across the room and a hooded figure approached the microphone. They then began to sing, or chant, or for all I know cast spells, with haunting vocal control that was sometimes deep, rumbling and resonant, and sometimes rasping with whispers and hoarse intonations from an unknown time, language or message. These messages came complete with what seemed like very specific hand gestures. and later on a costume change of golden spikes and mirrored cape.
After reciting what seemed like an entire passage from an ancient book, the sound of buzzing guitar amps suddenly crawled out of the smoke, electrifying the audience. True to expectation, the set was a couple of hours of slowly shifting sonic weight, with further passages of almost demonic prose.
Powerful frequencies battled for control over the building’s materials as well as my body, the strength of it creating “beats” between cycles of low drones and stacked harmonic distortion. As the set unfolded the crowd stood mostly in amazed hypnosis, while certain sonic gestures set others off into their own private dance or sway. Here and there fists, claws and O))) signs were held aloft, silhouetted in the smoke.
After the show I felt like I had just been told the most incredible story backed with an enormously solemn soundtrack. With closed eyes I wasn’t in SWX, but some stone circle ceremony or fortress from another world.
Sunn O))), SWX, Thursday, July 17 2017
Read more: Paul Jocelyn: A Sound Life