Sunn O))) has made a legendary career by creating droning, ominous sounds of biblical proportions, which makes Pyroclasts a perfect score to the end of the world. Over their 20 year span, Sunn O))) has amassed a cult following, fans of an already cult-ish aesthetic and subculture. Their style is loud, relying heavily on guitar feedback and sustained notes to form saturated waves of spectral noise. Their thick and looming distorted tone is unrivaled. Songs crescendo to a wall of sound, and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish any individual guitar parts or structure. This band is not for the artistically faint of heart, and is definitely an acquired taste. Sunn O))) has quite a polarizing effect – you either like them or you don’t. If you do, then strap in.
The tracks Sunn O))) creates are hard to call songs. They feel more like atmospheres or experiences. Though their style could be considered a form of metal, there’s a strong pull towards noise and ambient elements. Fans of Merzbow and other experimental/noise artists will find something to love about Sunn O))). Pyroclasts is primarily soundscapes (or hellscapes depending on how you hear it) – no vocals, and no percussion. Their music is otherworldly and magical bordering on the occult. The band’s image supports this feeling, as they play in hooded robes with enough fog filling the room to veil the audience. They are the sound of a cemetery at dusk: creepy and heavy, while at the same time being relaxing enough to put you in a trance. When listening, it’s easy to either feel sensory overload or for it to fade into the background entirely.
Pyroclasts is the second album Sunn O))) released in 2019, quite a feat for any artist these days. The album was recorded on two-inch tape by Steve Albini (a legend in his own right) at Electrical Audio, and serves as a continuation of sorts to Life Metal, their previous 2019 release. Though the albums can be considered two sides of the same coin, the connection between the two is subtle since Life Metal features minimal angelic vocals and a more menacing tone. Pyroclasts, along with most of Sunn O)))’s discography, sounds like the film score to a psychological thriller about the last human on earth, a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with anxious isolation and nervous anticipation. There’s something chilling about it, some spirit that feels ancient and uneasy. Pyroclasts functions as the more contemplative piece of their releases this year.
Of course, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even fans of artistically challenging metal bands may find this to be more than they bargained for, not to mention each of the four tracks is above the ten minute mark. This is nothing new for Sunn O))) fans, as their music has consistently operated as an artistic element, not a commercially accessible machine. That being said, if you find drone metal inspiring and not mind-numbing, then you’re in the right place. Long time listeners will be sure to love this album. Sunn O))) has a unique way of blending sounds to make something beautiful and frightening. It’s hard to decipher a stylistic difference between Pyroclasts and earlier albums, but the band has such a distinct style that it’s nothing jarring to listeners of their discography. The album holds up to earlier work, in a sense that it’s an album no one else could make. Their style is their own, and they will live as legends as long as they last. There will never be another band quite like Sunn O))).