December 18, 2005
Here’s everything I knew about SunnO))) before going to see them last night: they wear druid’s robes, their name is pronounced “sun” even though it’s spelled like “sun-oh” because they’re named after an amp or some shit, they traffic in 20-minute ambient doom-metal epics, people like them. Based on what I knew, I figured they’d sound something like Godspeed You! Black Emperor with occasional screaming-cookie-monster metal-dude vocals. Turns out they sound more like the driver of an 18-wheeler parking outside my apartment and leaning on his horn for an hour straight. They aren’t a metal band in any way that a novice like me would recognize. Their set consisted entirely of a series of sustained, heavily processed, earthshaking fuzz-bass and fuzz-guitar tones, an unbroken hour-long “BWAAAAOW.” It was less boring than last week’s Mos Def set, and there was something oddly soothing about it, but I’m not entirely sure how it qualifies as music. (Ryan Dombal: “You remember The Neverending Story? The Nothing? It reminded me of that.”)
Before the band walked onstage, a smoke machine started spewing steam into Northsix. It didn’t stop the entire time the band was playing, and so the club looked like a desolate Scottish wasteland bathed in fuzzy glowing red light before by the time the dudes walked onstage. When they did walk on, they were barely visible: three dudes with their faces hidden under enormous hoods and scraggly beards poking out, holding guitars and wine bottles while some ethereal wordless new-agey female vocals played (if it wasn’t Enya, it sure sounded like it). This was great stuff, especially if you’d done like me and spent the whole day watching Lord of the Rings on TNT. But the music seemed to accompany the visuals rather than vice-versa. Every once in a while, the two guitar dudes would rear their heads back or raise their guitars over their heads like they were about to do something, but they never did. I’m pretty sure the third guy just held down one synth key the entire time. Half an hour in, a singer walked onstage, but his forlorn-demon screaming was barely audible under all the drone; I have no idea whether he was actually singing words. A few minutes after he walked on, something resembling a riff wandered in, but it dissipated as soon as I noticed it. And then, after an hour, the noise abruptly stopped, the lights came up, and the band waved to the crowd and walked offstage. That was it.
So SunnO))) has no shortage of restraint; the band is fully, rigorously committed to its chosen aesthetic. It would’ve been amazing if an honest-to-God riff or beat came in somewhere in there, and I’m not convinced that it would’ve ruined the band’s mystique. Even Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom, the other drone-happy group I saw this year, broke their set up into a couple of different pieces. But here’s the weird thing: I’m glad I was there. I went into the show nursing a lingering hangover headache, and I walked out feeling much better, cleansed and alert, like the poison had been all rumbled out of me. So even if I never go see SunnO))) again (and I can’t really imagine that I will), I’m grateful to the band for perfecting the metal-show-as-hangover-cure.