Review by Ronny Kerr. Photos by Mark Jayson Quines.
Review of Seattle doom legends Sunn O))) performing at the Fillmore in San Francisco on Monday, September 9, 2019, with support from Papa M and Big|Brave.
an act or process of immersing and washing one's body in a large container of [tone].
the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by [tonal] means.
the act of thinking deeply or focusing one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of [tone], for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
Sunn O))) had arrived. For nearly two hours on Monday evening, the high priests of doom metal blessed a solemn crowd in San Francisco with a sound bath akin to therapy or meditation. It was as much ceremony and spectacle as it was performance: before the band even took the stage, fog machines like artillery blasted out smoke into the venue, at times even disappearing the people standing right next to you.
The band members performed in their characteristic black hooded robes, epically raising their fists and picks to the air before each strum. (With the same ceremonial gusto, they would pass around a bottle of wine to one another throughout the set.) There were moments of heavy, dark drone, and then there were moments when the guitar crunch and bass kicked into overdrive, summoning invisible beasts under the earth, whose slow, gargantuan movements vibrated our bodies.
Given how physical the bass felt, you could imagine someone in the crowd literally orgasming. Or, as one attendee said to a friend after the show, “Did they hit the brown note?”
Is it odd that I forgot that Sunn O))) doesn’t use drums? But in lieu of a drum kit (or three, in the case of another legendary band’s most recent lineup), Sunn O))) had no shortage of noisemakers. Stacks of guitar cabinets and amplifiers—dozens of them—graced the stage in a semicircle reminiscent of Stonehenge.
But it isn’t simply pure volume that makes Sunn O))) so incredible. It’s that infinitely definable quality of sound we call “tone.” Precisely because so little “happens” in minimalist music, every detail matters. Timing—rhythm and duration. The occasional wail of feedback. The velocity of the strum. Even the split second scrape of fingers sliding down the frets. And, in the middle of the set, a haunting saxophonist soloing in a single cone of yellow light.
Aside from an interruption early in the set (due to either a medical emergency or power failure in the building), Sunn O))) never relented for a moment. At the end of their set, they raised their hands in gratitude, they walked off stage, and then—as scores of people filtered out of the venue—they reemerged for an encore. Joining them was Robin Wattie of the night’s first opening band, Big|Brave, donning her own black robe to sing a clarion farewell.
Sunn O))) released their eighth studio album Life Metal in April of this year and already announced a new album, Pyroclasts, due out in October. Listen to Life Metal below and see the band’s upcoming tour dates here.