This month sees the re-release of the pioneering second album by Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, known together as Sunn O))). ØØ Void (first released in 2000) is a powerful piece of work, challenging the listener with wave after wave of droning guitars. Become accustomed to the sheer noise, and you will find hints and suggestions as to what was to come from the duo and their collaborators over the next decade.
ØØ Void marked the point where Sunn O))) grew beyond trying to simply copy Dylan Carlson’s influential drone-doom record Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version. They hired producer Scott Reeder, best known for playing bass on Welcome to Sky Valley, magnum opus of stoner legends Kyuss. Reeder brought out the best in Sunn O))), committing to tape the finest hour of amplifier torture you’ll ever hear, teasing out the sub-bass frequencies by putting the amplifiers in a garage with the microphone twenty feet away outside.
There are guest musicians present too, notably Stuart Dahlquist of Burning Witch on bass and Petra Haden on violin. Peter Stahl, singer in many bands including Goatsnake, Wool and earthlings?, makes an appearance, but you’d be pushed to recognise him as his vocals are all but lost in the muddle of sound going on at that point. Ultimately the record is about Anderson and O’Malley finding their own voice and laying down the foundations for the expansion on their sound across their later albums and also paving the way for followers such as Boris.
The opener, entitled ‘Richard’, gently eases you in with a bass riff that reminds me of the Monster Magnet cover of ‘Into the Void’. In fact the harsh bends of the bass strings are highly reminiscent of Geezer Butler’s playing on the early Black Sabbath records. Before you get too comfortable, the drone begins and you’re enveloped in a world of distorted guitars. It’s at this point that you’ll either get it or you won’t. If you do understand what Sunn O))) are trying to do you’ll appreciate the textures of noise and the way the guitars mask an array of background sounds. But there’s no getting away from the fact that this album is not for everyone.
When the hour is up and the guitars finally fade away into feedback, the bass is detuned to the point where you can hear the amplifier struggling to handle the frequencies. It’s a fitting end to a record that deconstructs the idea of music itself, stripping it of rhythms, melodies and meaning beyond what it makes the listener feel. Later Sunn O))) would experiment with ambience and language; they would collaborate with everyone from black metal vocalists to a Viennese choir. The selling point of ØØ Void is its purity of style; the lack of gimmickry.
Sunn O))) have created more accessible albums and they have created more accomplished albums that truly defy classification. ØØ Void is unashamedly a noise album, and as noise albums go it’s one of the best.