Sunn O))) / Sunn O))) Meets Nurse With Wound

ØØ Void / The Iron Soul of Nothing Reissue

(Southern Lord/Ideologic Organ; 2000/2008/2011)

By Jordan Cronk | 14 January 2012

For a band who’s never moved at anything above a lumbering lurch and never played more than a few, nearly-indistinguishable chords per album, Sunn O))) have covered an impressive amount of ground over the last thirteen years. Their origins as an Earth tribute band has been so thoroughly circumvented, inverted, and reanimated that they’ve arguably eclipsed the legacy of their forebears by simply obliterating the trajectory from influence to experimentation to evolution. In this sense, it’s not so much disorienting as it is illuminating to revisit ØØ Void, Sunn O)))’s second release from 2000, recently reissued by Southern Lord. After all, it sounds exactly as you remember—or exactly as you’d imagine—which is to say: glacial-slow riffs, suffocating drones, mind-numbing minimalism. But despite the seeming familiarity, the chasm between ØØ Void and, say, Monoliths & Dimensions (2009), is vast, miles of sustain, canyons of bass reverberation, a vortex of strings, horns, and ghastly vox left in the wake of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s titanic expansion of the parameters and ideology of drone metal.

Listening back, the range of frequencies seems tighter, the space between chords less perceptible. Sunn O))) were already the biggest, baddest crew on the block, relying on sheer force and volume to put forth their ideas, yet then as now, it’s the details that elevate this music beyond mere concept or provocation. The dialogue between the few contrasting notes in opener “Richard” facilitates collateral (almost subliminal) noise, the waves of sustain approximating at various moments the creaking of a rusty gate, the shill of detuned string instruments, and industrial machinery left to short-circuit after nuclear fallout. “NN O)))” features the early appearance of vocals on a Sunn O))) record, with Scream’s Pete Stahl haunting the outskirts of the mix with a combination of low moans and exasperated howls, a spectrum of tones applied instrumentally in closer “Ra at Dusk,” which surveys similar landscapes but finds no trace of human life.

The key track, however, is “Rabbit’s Revenge,” essentially a cover of a live Melvins track which some have posited as the basis for “Hung Bunny” from 1992s Lysol. Sunn O))) sample the performance a little less than halfway through, livening up a purposefully asphyxiated record while paying tribute—just as they did with “Dylan Carlson” on The Grimmrobe Demos (1999)—to one of their primary inspirations. It points directly to the outside influences—black metal, ambient, avant-garde jazz—which would stimulate so much of the bands later, more ambitious work.

In 2008, one of the band’s spiritual ancestors got the opportunity to repay the favor. Packaged together with the reissue of ØØ Void is The Iron Soul of Nothing, a “remix” of the sessions by British avant-garde and industrial noise legends Nurse With Wound, who unsurprisingly gut the mixes for spare parts and erect in its place a proper drone record, one that stands as both compliment and separate entity to the original album. The nineteen-minute “Dysnystaxis (…A Chance Meeting With Somnus)” stands in sharp contrast to the enveloping ØØ Void and predicts the more contemplative (if no less chilling) mood of this remix collection, splaying bits and pieces of Sunn O)))’s peripheral commotion across a mournful, softly sighing ambient wasteland. Twin tracks “Ra at Dawn Part I (Rapture, At Last)” and “Ra at Dawn Part II (Numbed By Her Light)” carry a similarly bleak sense of abandon but add a sinister undertone which Nurse leader Steven Stapleton kneads out of blankets of industrialized noise, static, and samples.

These are all intimidating, rewarding tracks in their own right, but just as ØØ Void’s centerpiece eclipses its surroundings, so too does “Ash on the Trees {The Sudden Ebb of a Diatribe},” Nurse With Wound’s terrifying reinterpretation of “NN O))).” Fore-fronting Pete Stahl’s previously obfuscated vocals, Stapleton lays bare these chilling incantations (“Life has no meaning,” Stahl demonically intones, accurately summing up the general sentiment) over dynamic spikes in buzz-saw noise and wind-swept drone. The bottom falls out around the 6:30 mark, leaving a thin, piercing tone to crest alongside slowly accumulating growls, the original track’s guttural riff, and shards of broken glass. In its own nightmarish way, it feels like the most perfectly unholy marriage of these two towering experimental icons one could possibly imagine. But it speaks most interestingly to Sunn O)))’s aesthetic potential towards and, indeed, eventual realization of such liberal convergences. It may appear incremental to passing consideration, but even at this point Sunn O))) were beginning to disappear just beyond the horizon of genre.