Sunn O))) and Om are two extreme (and very distinct) interpretations of the doom/stoner genre. Both contain members from very distinguished doom/stoner bands (Goatsnake/Khanate/Thorr’s Hammer & Sleep respectively). Sorry to state the obvious, but this seems appropriate given the crowd that have turned up to this gig, at this one of the trendiest of London venues, seem largely oblivious to this fact. Instead of the usual gnarled, bearded and blackened misfits (who are here but lurking ominously in the shadows wielding the claw of doom) I am surrounded by NME kids (‘good’ hair aplenty) and art school ATP fops (more ‘good’ hair, but with stupid hats and glasses too). The fact that Sunn O))) have become ‘trendy’ is one that I was largely oblivious to until now, but the ‘lambs to the slaughter’ atmosphere it lends to the evening makes it feel perfectly appropriate.
Om seem totally out of place in this largish, bright venue, and struggle to really get out of the starting blocks. The mix is all over the place particularly with the drums, which instead of underpinning Cisneros’s hypnotic bass sound more like someone was cooking popcorn somewhere out back. The addition of a crazy ascetic frantically wafting a tambourine and providing multi-instrumentalism accompanied by intermittent, semi-tuneful pig squeals does nothing to elevate this muted performance. I’ve never seen Om live but I always imagined that they belong in a small, dark auditorium with the bass turned up to 12, where the crowd shuts up, closes their eyes and saturates in the cosmic vibes. Wrong place, wrong crowd for Om then.
Any worries that Sunn O))) would befall the same fate are soon dispelled. A good 10 minutes of solid, bone rattling guitar/bass drone from the robed duo have the trendy kids looking decidedly confused and perturbed, but this is mere whimsy compared to what is to come.
Sunn O))) have essentially taken the doom and black metal aesthetics and turned them into minimalist performance art. On record they are interesting, but it’s impossible to really appreciate the truly malign spectacle that it is supposed to convey. If you want to experience this at home, then turn the stereo up full blast, switch off all the lights, set light to the sofa and then invite a serial killer in to join the party.
As the dense smoke (or perhaps funeral fog) billows across the stage you catch fleeting glimpses of messrs Anderson and O’Malley – dark spectres in ceremonial garb, statue-like but somehow frantic and intense. Towering in front the harrowing master of ceremonies Attila (a renowned black metal vocalist by the way NME kids) is imposing as he narrates our demise. Illuminated from below by a green haze, his snakelike hands signal dark semaphore while his terrifying growl threatens to bring the roof crashing in on us. For a period of a cappella snarling and chanting his magnificent voice tears through the crowd leaving those of good hair looking terrified and the rest of us awed.
As the drone returns and intensifies, Attila writhes, wraithlike in a column of thick smoke and green haze – smoke pours out from the arms and face aperture of his robe making for a truly ominous spectacle. By now the auditorium is thick with smoke and the view across the hypnotised heads of the crowd is like tombstones in cemetery mist.
Attila leaves Anderson and O’Malley to worry the foundations (and the indie kids) for a deafening while before returning in a multi-coloured, metallic, spiky suit. Like an evil technicolor dreamcoat, lasers shoot from his fists piercing the gloom to magnificent effect. The insane chanting and osteoporosis inducing noise finally builds to a pounding finale that’s both frightening and elating.
Sunn O))) gigs are not an occasion to guzzle beer, punch the air and sing along. They’re all about the intimidating atmosphere and earth shattering noise. At times it was a little tedious and laboured but the sheer majestic perversity of it all just keeps dragging you in to Sunn O))) nightmarish world, and oh what a wonderful world!