The Outer Limits: How Prog Are Sunn 0)))?
They’re the hooded drone lords shrouded in intensity and intrigue. They’re known for their extreme music, but their ambient, experimental sounds and live performances push boundaries to their
What could be more progressive than the act of taking music to places where it has never been before?
Superficially, of course, the extraordinary music made by Sunn O))) over the last 18 years exhibits little that most of us would recognise as progressive rock of any description, and yet the huge impact that members Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have had on the worlds of underground and experimental music suggests the duo have plenty in common with prog’s pioneers. Dedicated purveyors of what can loosely be described as ‘drone’, initially inspired by the works of Earth and The Melvins, Sunn O))) have long flown the flag for musical freedom.
“The idea of starting the group was just really an excuse for Stephen and I to keep playing music together,” Anderson explains. “In the mid-90s we had two bands together, Thorr’s Hammer and Burning Witch, which were more traditionally structured bands with bass, drums, guitars and vocals, and verses, choruses and more traditional songs. We really enjoyed playing music together and we both ended up moving away from Seattle, where we’d grown up, and we ended up in Los Angeles at the same time.
“There were no aspirations, no goals. When most people start a band they want to achieve certain things, like put out a record, go out on tour, get laid, all that kind of stuff. With Sunn O))) there was none of that. We didn’t know what we were going to do at all. We wanted to basically play music together, play riffs through as many amps as we could get our hands on, and we were pretty out of our heads too! We were just experimenting, you know?”
The earliest Sunn O))) recordings are an object lesson in minimalism and overpowering repetition, the lumbering gait and overdriven riffs of doom metal stretched out to almost unthinkable lengths, creating a quasi-ambient wall of sound that rattled bowels, shook floors and conjured a disorientating but irresistible cocoon of thick bass frequencies around the listener. Early albums like OO Void and Flight Of The Behemoth were swiftly embraced by the underground metal scene, but it wasn’t until the band began to realise the limitless possibilities inherent in their sound that the true progressive potential of this odd approach to music began to exert its full strength.
Through numerous collaborations with like-minded musicians from every corner of the sonic spectrum, the drone became a remarkable and vast canvas via which all manner of alien and familiar elements could be reconfigured and assimilated. The result of this has been that records like astonishing live album Dømkirke and 2009’s mind-blowing Monoliths & Dimensions have enabled Sunn O))) to connect with audiences far beyond their metal roots.