Last night drone legends Sunn O))) returned to London to play the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown Festival curated by David Byrne, with support coming from Russian ritualistic drone trio Phurpa. It’s a different environment than one might expect from the masters of volume, but nonetheless they delivered a performance that was nothing short of awe inspiring.
Phurpa were a good choice of support act, their throat singing and traditional wind instruments sending walls of hypnotic drone through the venue. It was a ritualistic performance, all three members sat down on stage performing their improvisational ambient music. They were hypnotic almost to the point of sleep-inducing, so while interesting one can’t help thinking however that their hour set went on just a bit too long.
Bob Marley once said “One good thing about music, when it hits you fell no pain”. Try telling that to the woman in the front row who ran from the room just two minutes after Sunn O))) took the stage. Dressed in robes and drenched in dry ice they unleashed a sound unlike any other artist – guitar and bass droning away so loud and intensely you could feel it just as much as you hear it. Intense vibrations pass throughout your whole body, literally pinning you down in your seat as the ears struggle with pain with the sonic assault on the senses – very literally in the plural. A lot of groups claim to be loud, but none can compare with the levels of volume produced by this four piece, unrelenting droning riffs and guitar wails, bass frequencies and electronics absolutely crush from beyond the wall of dry ice – making all but the most hardened reach for the earplugs.. There’s little movement from the musicians, matching the glacial drone, yet the stage presence is engaging – the occasional raised pick pointing through the fog during another crescendo of volume or wail of guitar was all that signified they weren’t completely lost in their ritual.
Atilla’s vocals match Sunn O)))’s sound perfectly, as does the Mayhem frontman’s stage presence. Starting off sitting cross legged, he slowly rose throughout the performance to deliver the haunting throat singing that added so much to the atmosphere of Monoliths and Dimensions, breaking through the wall of noise with his twisted, otherworldly vocals matching the music well in the first part of the show, somehow hypnotic against the intense backdrop of volume. Leaving the stage half way through, he came back with a metal, reflective costume and gave a completely different performance, screeching horrendously in a manner familar to Mayhem fans. With agonisingly harsh screams against the ominous wall of drone made the end of their set absolutely fearsome.
Sunn O))) isn’t just a typical live band, they’re an experience like none other. By the time their hour and a half of terrifying sound had ended, it felt like their music was mind altering – leaving you literally feeling intoxicated. Leaving the venue I felt barely able to walk or to even think coherently, sentences unable to form – it took ten minutes before being able to mutter anything other than “Fuckin’ ‘ell…” In short, Sunn O))) are an essential live act, using intense volume to leave you with a feeling music has never made you experience before – you don’t just hear their music, you experience it, and it batters your ears, mind, body and soul. Maximum volume yields maximum results.