Southern Lord · April 26, 2019
Sunn O))) have for a long time been at the forefront of drone metal. As contemporaries such as Earth have veered towards more doom and traditional styles of metal, Sunn O))) have stuck to their guns, and their new record Life Metal is no exception, delivering just over an hour of music over four tracks.
Only one song on Life Metal features vocals, the opening track “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” provided by Hildur Guonadottir, who also provided the cello drones on the closing track “Novae”. The rest of the album is the slow, drawn out, hypnotic riffs that we are familiar with from Sunn O))), a sound that they are known to have brought to both their solo and collaborative projects throughout the years. These sounds are given new life by Steve Albini’s production. The deep, syrupy textures are just as entrancing as ever.
The group also wanted to take a brighter approach to their songwriting on this record, thus the tongue in cheek album title serving as a contrast to the genre tag death metal. This comes across in the cleaner more defined production, which dispels some of the doom and gloom associated with their groundbreaking breakthrough records like 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions. However, minimal, heavy chord progressions with little embellishment and no percussion are still an acquired taste, and while I do see Life Metal appeasing fans of the band and genre, I don’t see it becoming an album that brings many new fans into the genre.
As a fan of other more traditional styles of extreme metal, particularly doom (we play slow but not quite that slow), there were parts where I could see someone unfamiliar with the genre beginning to lose interest. Not that this is a critique of the record, you can’t criticize an album for not doing something that it wasn’t going for in the first place. It’s just to say that Sunn O))) were clear in their audience for this record and created a record to appease those people, without looking to bring in others.