Not long ago, in the relatively balmy days of early December, I found myself, as is my usual daily routine, strolling through the local cemetery, Abney Park, all overgrown and witch-haunted, broken angels and grasping stone hands. And that’s on a normal day. But this particular afternoon the region was visited by the harbinger of truly apocalyptic weather. About an hour earlier than was reasonable (and certainly earlier than would be considered polite by any civilised climatic system) the sun went dark, the wind picked up, and darkness descended across the land. The veil of the Temple may even have been rent in two, but I was nowhere near the bloody Temple, what with being on the other side of the world and all, so I couldn’t really tell you with any degree of accuracy whether that had happened. Mind you, I’m sure it would have showed up on the news somewhere, or at the very least on the internet.This seemed like a perfect time to revisit the wonders of SunnO)))‘s øøVoid album, which handily has just been reissued. It’s music for apocalyptic weather, that’s for sure. Nobody does foreboding like Anderson and O’Malley. Achingly slow riffs, pitched way down, somewhere between sub-bass and the Ninth Circle Of Hell, it’s like travelling through the loneliest points of the furthest reaches of space and journeying to the centre of the earth (without Doug McClure, sadly) at the same time. This is old-skool Sunn0))), without the horns or vocals of their more recent work – it’s just you, the bass, and the infinite. It’s terrifying and compelling; and it fits really well with a preternaturally dark cemetery devoid of other human life.
SunnO)))’s low-end minimalism can seem counter-intuitive, until you start to consider the reading that, as they’ve said, they aren’t playing guitars – they’re playing amps. They’re just using guitars to play them, like you’d use a bow or a plectrum. It’s all in the resonances; the long, drawn-out riffs are just a means to an end. Or possibly to The End.
And then someone let Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter loose on the whole thing. In much the same way that SunnO))) don’t play guitars, Nurse With Wound don’t play music, not even in the most avant-garde sense of the word. Nurse With Wound play the human brain, they just use music to play it, like SunnO))) use instruments to play amps. They set up implications, drag up memories, draw loose connections, and let the whole resolve itself inside the head of the listener into a glorious web of harmonised thoughts, conceptual dischords. Like SunnO))), they give you a whole universe to explore, but just draw your attention to certain bits of it. Like SunnO))), properly listened to, no NWW album ever really sounds quite the same twice, because the real improvisational magic is taking place inside your head, where Stapleton’s busy wiring together hopes, fears and memories into a beautiful engine of catastrophe.The Iron Soul Of Nothing, also just re-released (this time by Editions Mego, and on vinyl too), is billed as a remix, but that’s pretty reductive. That’s as reductive as saying NWW play music, or SunnO))) play metal – it’s technically true, but to see it as definitive means you’re watching the wire and missing the angel (insert bad TV scheduling joke here, if you will). The Iron Soul Of Nothing isn’t so much a remix of øøVoid as a dream about it. It’s an awesome shamanic trip above it, largely composed of entirely new sounds that complement and hark back to it. At times the dreamer approaches consciousness – look, through the mist! Two black-robed figures carving away at those colossal riffs, devil-horns aloft – and then the dream takes hold again. After the slow formlessness of “Dysnystaxis”, “Ash On The Trees” is where the experience peaks, like a nightmare you don’t want to awaken from. Again, “ominous” is the word of the day, until breaking glass heralds the arrival of the thing we’ve been awaiting – total chaos. “Ra At Dawn” is the sound of the sun coming up, and the realisation that it hasn’t brought the world back to normality. It’s a symphony of sleep paralysis. It’s simultaneously claustrophobic and agoraphobic (but not like in that Half Man Half Biscuit song about being trapped in the porch). It’s what happens when the day begins but the night hasn’t fucked off yet. It’s the dream sequence at the end of a horror movie, the hand bursting out of the grave. It’s awesome.
If you haven’t experienced either of these things before, then I suggest you do so. If you have, then try the new releases. As I say, if they sound the same as they did last time you heard them, then you’re doing it wrong.
-Deuteronemu 90210))) or a variation thereon-
NOTE – I should have got this review in earlier, so that people working in record shops could respond to queries about 00 Void by singing “The SunnO)))’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be SunnO)))”… But I didn’t. So maybe next time.