4th December 2015 – Southern Lord
01. Kannon 1
02. Kannon 2
03. Kannon 3
In the six years since Monoliths and Dimensions you can hardly accuse Sunn O))) of being inactive, having released three collaborative records and maintained an active touring presence. Since then the playing field has changed somewhat; with a considerable gulf since the last release, Sunn O))) have adjusted their take on the genre and have made a few surprising moves.
Any activity in the Sunn O))) camp tends to get a mixed response, which is fairly understandable given that they are deliberately impenetrable. In a genre which prides itself on being confrontational and challenging, Sunn O))) are head and shoulders above their peers. To illustrate, imagine Marduk or Anaal Nathrakh fans baulking at a Sunn O))) release in a similar way that longtime metal fans will get tired of explaining their passion to outsiders. Their music is characterised by monstrous volume travelling at a glacial pace, but it’s also ambitious;Monoliths and Dimensions featured a lot of bizarre instrumentation – notably the haunting horns on “Alice” – and the music is layered, busy and so, so dense; every idea seemingly more left-field than the last.
It’s bizarre, then, that this album takes a significant step back. Any given Sunn O))) record is hard to digest, but at only a shade over thirty minutes Kannon is a surprisingly short release. It’s also a lot more straightforward and stripped-down; Sunn O))) never commit to the minimalism that their peers in Earth or Bong are devoted too – though this is often a starting point for their compositions – however here we see a lot of condensed ideas: the chanting throughout “Kannon 3” is enthralling but it’s also the focal point of the song, rather than one idea in a huge mess of structures and concepts. The guitars are a little faster than the previous releases and the production is a little lighter and less devastating. Even from the cover it’s obvious that Kannon is a different beastie from previous releases; it’s slicker and less busy, though still a little sinister.
The lack of outright experimentation is a little surprising considering how out-there some of their recent collaborations has been. From the pomp and hubris of Soused - their release with Scott Walker – to the fucking mortifying Ulver record, O’Malley and Anderson have covered a lot of ground with these experiments, which will surely leave some fans a little disappointed. This is Sunn O))) after all; art metal stalwarts, and famous for being the endgame for ‘extreme’ metal.
The key to the change in focus can be attributed to the state of drone metal in 2015. With every major release the tiny subgenre expands significantly, and since 2009 we’ve had three new Earth records, new Om and the meteoric rise of Conan. As an aside, the UK drone scene is alive and healthy with releases from Bong and Moss and relative newcomers like Gorgantuan and Coltsblood, among others. With each of these releases, new textures and flavours are added to the general pool of influences; Greg Anderson’s work as helmsman for Southern Lord is further evidence that they will be uniquely aware of the current canon of new drone releases. This, then, is the essence of Sunn O))); three tracks of condensed drone, still malevolent, still challenging and still gargantuan. Stripped back from the really out-there stuff and with Attila’s intonations brought to the vanguard, Kannon is immersive in ways that their earlier material doesn’t quite manage; in this respect at least, this may be their most successful release to date.
It’s easy to dismiss Sunn O))), but they should be celebrated; there are few other bands who walk the earth who can lay claim to be as outright difficult to listen to, which is one of the more dubious goals that metal sets itself. Plus, Kannon is nothing if not successful – it may not have the raw ambition of earlier releases, but it’s still a progression and possesses a clarity and focus that nothing else in their back catalogue can rival. Future releases may flirt with the avant-garde once more, but this couldn’t be a better statement for drone in 2015.