Sunn O)))‘s live show is the stuff of proverbial music legend, talked about in the kind of terms ordinarily reserved for religious ceremonies or spiritual awakenings. Somewhere between a gig and a druidic seance, attending a Sunn O))) show is like witnessing the birth of a volcanic island while listening to a star collapse. That is to say: it is stiflingly hot; at points both beautiful and terrifying; and very, very loud.
Despite being the second sold-out show the band are playing in Berlin, the packed hall of Festsaal Kreuzberg has an eerie calm about it as a seemingly endless plume of sickly-sweet smoke pumps from the stage, obscuring large sections of the room. People fold their arms and close their eyes; some even sit cross-legged on the floor as the air throbs with a cacophonous wall of sound. There is no dancing. There is barely any movement at all among the crowd. All focus is on the noise.
On stage, the band’s five members teeter back and forth with golem-like calm, their hooded robes obscuring all recognisably human features. Between two guitars, two banks of synths, umpteen FX pedals and an unfeasible number of amplifier stacks, the group’s frontman Attila Csihar cranes over his microphone, oscillating between sonorous monastic chanting and low guttural rumbles. While there are occasional flashes of melody and instrumentation during the following 60+ minutes (doom trombone, anyone?), for the most part, the show is a dense, pulsating mass of discordant, feedback-laden guitar. The only reprieve comes towards the end, during a surprisingly intimate acapella section in which the full weight of Csihar’s vocals are laid bare, almost operatic in their range.
While tonight’s performance could reasonably be described as an uncompromising and relentless tour-de-dread – that’s also kind of the point. Most people could live 1000 years of normal life without hearing the sort of frequencies thrown at you during a Sunn O))) concert and the fact the band has managed to form a 20-year career from this seemingly narrow concept is testament to how strangely compelling the whole experience is.
After all, the world is going to end someday. You might as well find out how it will sound.