Sunn O))) breaks new ground with ‘Pyroclasts’

Sunn O)))


Southern Lord · October 25, 2019

Sunn O)))’s music, for better or for worse, hurls the listener into a state of chaotic numbness. Each album is a slow build, meant to gradually break down walls and penetrate the soul. When consumed in its most genuine state – live – the music will stir a soft rumble in the center of the chest, slowly building into the throat, literally blocking any thoughts unassociated with the music from entering or leaving the mind. The next best thing is a solid pair of headphones, and while it takes a little more effort, that same meditative state can be achieved. Each album has a build, a peak, and a descent – all except Life Metal and Pyroclasts, both of which were released in 2019. Instead, Sunn O))) has taken 2019 to release two of the most organic albums they’ve ever made. Together they create a full “Sunn O))) experience,” crafted in the span of two weeks.

Let’s look at a hefty e-mailed statement regarding the new album’s creation.

Pyroclasts is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at [Steve Albini’s] Electrical Audio Studio during July 2018,” the statement reads. “All of the day’s musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two-inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the day’s session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.”

The statement goes on to describe Pyroclasts as an album that is “inextricably woven” into Life Metal due to the presence of record producer Steve Albini, best known for his hand in the production of albums like Nirvana’s In Utero and Slint’s Spiderland.

But there’s more to it than that; Beyond Steve Albini’s masterful production, there is something remarkable happening with these releases. The first, Life Metal, is a breathtaking colossus of an album, invasive and strategically crafted. That album is the ascension, the buildup. No gimmicks – just Sunn O))) making music with a distinct goal in mind. 

Now, with the release of Pyroclasts, we have something more experimental. Seen as a sort of meditative companion to Life Metal, it seems to be more of a continuation of its predecessor. It starts off heavy, right at the peak of the experience that concluded Life Metal. The rest of the album is a stark descent into the aforementioned chaotic numbness–for both listener and musician. Whether it’s Tim Midyett, T.O.S., Hildur Guðnadóttir, Stephen O’Malley, or Greg Anderson, we are witnessing the band in a meditative, rehabilitative state rather than one aimed towards performance.  

The album’s name, which refers to any volcanic fragments hurled through the air by an eruption, seems more fitting for the first release. Even the cover is a bright splash of orange, resembling volcanic magma trickling down the side of a mountain. But maybe they knew that. Regardless, it is clear that the effort put into these stringed releases is unlike anything fans have ever seen from the band. This is cliché, but they are giving fans more than a piece of entertainment or a singular experience – it’s a state of mind.

With the start of 2019, Sunn O))) gave fans a carefully crafted masterpiece in drone metal. On Pyroclasts they entered new territory, one of self-reflection – and we’ve been given the priceless opportunity to join the ride.

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