Sunn O))), alongside, say, Destroyer and Dirty Projectors, is one of the few current bands whose every upcoming album is a huge big question mark in the minds of fans, critics, and basically anyone with any interest in the band. That would probably, and perhaps most particularly, include the bands themselves. Hearkening back to the fabled upping-the-ante with-each-record war between The Beatles and Brian Wilson, these bands have a tendency to get better, bolder, more audacious with each new offering. _Bay of Pigs_ and _Bitte Orca_ of course being recent examples of this vigorous, rigorous, penchant for reinvention, relentless experimentation and audacity.
Assuming that Sunn O))) are following this type of trajectory, Monoliths and Dimensions is certainly a success. With this album they’ve pushed both themselves and the genre onward into completely new territories. Continuing their interest in working with guest artist, the group collaborated on this record with Seattle violinist Eyvind Kang, once again worked with the guitarist Oren Ambarchi, Earth’s Dylan Carlson. I was also surprised to see the name of trombone legend Julian Priester on the album – having been familiar with him from his free-improv shows with Halifax drummer Jerry Granelli. In addition to these players the album features a complement of orchestral instruments and a choir, plus vocals from Mayhem’s Attila Csihar.
Things open up with a meditation on the inner-earth city of “Aghartha”, a long droning, scraping, track with what I’m going to call sprechstimme by Csihar, simply because I rarely ever have the opportunity to use the word. The lamas of high-attainment who allegedly guard Agartha’s alleged capital city of Shambhala would no doubt approve, with knowing smiles, of the harmonic-rich gurgling drones contained herein. Orchestral instruments and sound-effects give the track an organic, primal, even primordial sound of wind sweeping through swamp.
The album continues with “Big Church” which features the percussive, haunting alarm of the aforementioned choir, on top of epic, crushing drones that only Sunn O))) could conjure. “Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)” continues in a similar vein, with less choir, more of Sunn O)))’s patented drone and feedback swirl, and Csihar’s incantations.
“Alice” is the show-stopper and thus, appropriately, also the album’s closer. It builds ever so slowly, over the course of it’s sixteen minutes, from a base of drone, gradually adding shimmering, beautiful orchestral instruments and Priester’s gorgeous trombone playing. The trombone is lush; hopeful; happy. This very pretty, pastoral ending is a bit of a shock to the system, coming as it does from Sunn O))). Stunning. Awesome.
Unquestionably their finest album to date, Monoliths and Dimensions transcends genre, transcends music even, and sets a new benchmark for the band. It makes one wonder where they can possibly go from here, which is what makes a band like this so exciting. Brilliant, essential, historic.