Sunn 0))) meets Nurse With Wound - "Ra at Dawn Part Two" (The Iron Soul of Nothing)
It should come as little surprise to anyone who’s listened to the development of Sunn 0))) over their last few albums to learn that Messrs. O’Malley and Anderson are Nurse With Wound fans. Given that Steven Stapleton and his legion of collaborators over the years have sought to craft some sheerly sonic way past genre, it makes some sense to hear Sunn 0)))’s path away from not just “metal” but from drone as energized by NWW on some level.
Four years ago, Stephen O’Malley – much enthralled by NWW’s Soliloquy for Lilith – commissioned Stapleton and current main collaborator Collin Potter to experiment on Sunn 0)))’s ØØ Void (2000). That classic album (just re-released, as it happens) found O’Malley and Greg Anderson perfecting their long-form dronecraft of heavy tone-bending, melismatic grind and speaker shaking rumble. The basic materials — head-nodding chug, some occasional harmonic shimmers at the edge of the sludge — might seem to constitute a limited palette, but in fact the re-envisioning proves quite expansive on The Iron Soul of Nothing.
“Dysnstaxis ( . . . a chance meeting with Somnus)” is only loosely related to the massive wall that was ØØ Void’s “Richard.” The remade track gathers up some of the high and mid-end harmonies, pares away the rest, and builds from there to a more ringing, sonorous drone that sounds almost completely detached from anything that could emerge from guitar and amplifier. At length, the piece introduces a haunting, repeating, echo-drenched viola refrain that is steadily buried by a Branca metal choir and sub-woofer heartbeat. “Ra at Dawn Part One” (one of two tracks here that nod to the original albums’ “Ra at Dusk”) sounds very much of a piece with Sunn 0)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions: it’s filled with Scelsi horns and Xenakis sonorities conjured by dark strings and low brass, as if Stapleton is conjuring a recent Sunn 0))) transformed from the old. “Ash on the Trees” is very spare, its detuned single-note thrumming (with oddly quavering pitch) the only real guitar moment on this record. I’m not a huge fan of the vocals on this track, but was tickled to note that they come courtesy of Pete Stahl of D.C. legends Scream. The track meanders a bit from there, and it’s aqueous, subdued, even ethereal in places. But I think I was fondest of the track least like the original: the closing “Ra at Dawn Part Two,” which is all abstract texture, stuffed with hints of broken radio signals, rain and bowed glass.
Ultimately, The Iron Soul of Nothing feels considerably more like a NWW album than a Sunn 0))) album. But somehow that doesn’t come at the expense of the source authors. Rather, it’s a satisfying document of Stapleton’s ongoing creativity as well as confirmation of the potential always nascent in the doom duo’s earliest work.