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Sunn 0))) - Flight Of The Behemoth

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Artist: Sunn 0)))

Album: Flight Of The Behemoth

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Say what you will about metalheads (and there's a lot to say, be it in the headbanging, the long hair, the black jeans, or the album fonts that leave you rotating the disc in the vain hopes of figuring out what the hell the band is actually called), but they can be pretty funny guys, if you get the joke. Like Sunn 0))), for example, whose expressed purpose for their doomish drones was based solely on the desire to find the exact frequency that when played live would make the audience defecate on the spot, or at the very least suffer from some form of nausea. Although the duo, comprised of Steve O'Malley and Greg Anderson (members of such intense bands as Burning Witch and Goatsnake), has acknowledged that this concept isn't really serious, it still helps to expose the mentality that went into creating The Flight of the Behemoth, the band's third full length disc. The record, a series of five low-end symphonies, is based on the premise of finding the lowest of low frequencies designed for the ultimate drones that will not only massage your intestines in ways you would probably prefer they not be, but also pummel the rest of your organs in a way former Swans proprietor Michael Gira probably never imagined with his concept of "body music."

The band's name is an homage in two parts - the first being to the amplifiers of the same name/logo design originally built by Conrad Sundholm in the 1960s, whose brother was at the time the bassist for garage rockers the Kingsmen. The second reference point for this name comes from an album, this one being Earth's masterful live recording Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars (recently reissued, too, with some bonus tracks). While some people approach the band as merely a tribute offering to Dylan Carlson's aforementioned stoner sludge rock project (something that the band doesn't really deny either, citing the fact that the band bears a marked similarity to Earth, only much slower), Sunn 0))) has become a beast entirely of its own doing at this point.

So what do metal jokes, bass cabinets, and a longing for the past days of a seminal experimental guitar and bass outfit sound like when tossed together? Well, fucking heavy. Seriously fucking heavy. The album opens with "Death Becomes You", thirteen minutes of pure stoned-out guitar and bass drones. There are riffs here, but they've been deconstructed and slowed down to the point where they only exist as prolonged bursts of one giant dull roar. While a lot of other modern minimalistic drones are content to put repetitive sound on a record and let people spend the duration stroking their chins, this is music that moves. The listener, however, has no such leisure here. Put this on full blast on a decent stereo and you can literally feel it pulsate - each wave of sound and drone crashes right into you. It might not make you drop one in your pants, but it will make you feel something, a statement which cannot be said of most of the music coming out these days. The second track, "Mocking Solemnity," sticks with the same formula, only this time allowing more range for the guitar and adding more pronounced feedback.

Tracks three and four switch things up a lot on this record, however, most notably through the presence of one Masami Akita (aka Merzbow). At first glance it seems kind of odd having the electronic noise maestro step into the studio with this power metal duo, but it works perfectly here. Merzbow's function on both "Sunn0)))BOW1" and "Sunn0)))BOW2" is primarily as a remixer, adding a clumsy yet ominous sounding piano and his patented bursts of noise to the mix. The only complaint about these two is that the elements Merbow adds are good touches to the tracks themselves but seem as though they are somewhat out of place on this record. They disrupt the continuity established by the first two tracks. But after a good solid twenty or so minutes of droning power, that could be a good thing for any inundated listener.

The album closes with "FWTBT: (I dream of Lars Ulrich being thrown out of the bus window instead of my master Mystikall Kliff Burton)", a track that doesn't stray much from the formula already established on the record. This time out, though, subtle vocal and percussion touches are added, making this the closest the record comes to an actual, recognizeable song. It doesn't make that much of a difference though - the drones are still as powerful as they are on the rest of the record, and the truly glorious sounds build until the album climaxes and short-circuits.

This record is not for everyone, and most importantly, not even remotely for the faint of heart. This is music that is pummeling, abusive, hard-hitting, and at times, hard to digest. But if you're into this sort of stuff, this is a must listen. This is a record that manages to combine both the intellectual bent of artists such as John Cale with the full-on sludge metal bombast of perennial favorites like Black Sabbath - something that seems like it would be nearly impossible to pull off convincingly. It ends up, ultimately, being more listenable than stuff like Cale while taking the ferocity of Tommy Iommi's riffs and leaving all the stupid metal posturing behind.

But maybe, just maybe I'm over analyzing this one. It's highly possible that the concept behind this album was hatched like this:

Steve O'Malley (SO): Hey man, do you know what would make Earth even better?

Greg Anderson (GA): [takes massive bong hit from three-foot glass piece] Uh...nothing?

SO: No...what if we slowed it down...a lot? [takes bong from GA, inhales equally massive hit]

GA: Holy shit...

You never know. I mean, "Alice In Wonderland" was born out of premium doses of opium...

By Michael Crumsho

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