If comedian Martin Mull’s much-misappropriated saying “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” holds any weight, attempting to sum up the equally ecstatic and obliterating experience of witnessing Sunn O))) at their most potent feels a bit breakdancing about brutalism or trying to riverdance about Mycenaean revivalism. Trickier still, trying to make anything resembling a few vaguely coherent mental notes for the purpose of this review (which, for this writer, proves an experiential trek veering between total oblivion and wildly fluctuating interior monologue) is a laughable prospect – the tripped-out, coeliac plexus-crushing equivalent of pissing into the wind of your mind.
“Am I enjoying this? Is the woman curiously looking around to my left pleased she came? Are that couple wearing what look like aircraft controller ear protectors having a good evening? Is the man to my right scrolling through the food delivery service app on his phone to my right unimpressed or terrified, leveraging the familiarity of his phone and JustEat and bright colours to grasp that there is indeed a world beyond these walls and the thick, razing swamp of 120db drone-doom in which he finds himself submerged? What happens if a group of students walk in mistaking the venue for Limelight 2, expecting to hear something like Calvin Harris or ‘Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen’? What then?”
Then the steady trickle of thoughts disappear.
No matter your general disposition, your mental resilience, your quality of earplugs, your close circle of friends stood around you; no matter how many hours you’ve invested into solipsistically obsessing over their records, how many times you’ve caught them live or whether you’ve heard all the stories of their much-fabled show at the Black Box here in Belfast ten years ago: Sunn O))) tonight is an endurance test that rewards – nay, honours – perseverance. With the 700 capacity venue engulfed in huge brumes of smoke – all but entirely enshrouding the berobed five-piece onstage – tonight’s performance begins via a remarkable invocation from vocalist Attila Csihar. Doubling up as the still before the tempest, there is a real sense of dark absolution to his masterfully impenetrable summons.
Comprising two hours of all-consuming drone and huge torrents of low-end, harmonic feedback, the main event swiftly sees knowing glances and wry nods amongst friends fade to close-eyed solitude and a collective sense of perfectly defeated beatitude. The scleras of the young man mopping the floor gleams through the fog as waves of sub-bass patters on bodies like hail against single-glazed windows. The sheer sense of physicality ranges from the sense of ants dancing over one’s arms and small children punching one in the stomach to the crust of the earth tearing in half with all the enmity of someone tearing a threatening bailiff letter. With some eyes occasionally rolling in the back of heads, moving to the front of the stage two-thirds through the gig is like sauntering into the third panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Surely this is borderline masochism yet even at its most relentless, there can be no debate as to whether the sheer extremity of Sunn O)))’s inimitable brand of doom stems from a place of total mysticism. As I set my plastic cup of water to one side halfway through – think this scene in Jurassic Park quadrupled – I’m determined to remember one thing tonight: no band will ever conjure pure rapture quite like these five men on stage.
Tonight is diametrically opposed to your average “Have a good weekend?” Monday night gig. Tonight is something else and much more. For that, one must be eternally thankful. Thank you, Solid Choice Industries. Thank you, Limelight. Thank you, Sunn O))) Brian Coney