Sunn O))): Monoliths and Dimensions 

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SUNN O))) Monoliths and Dimensions

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In his lecture “The Future of Music: Credo,” John Cage stated, “Centers of experimental music must be established.

In these centers, the new materials, oscillators, turntables, generators, means for amplifying small sounds, film phonographs, etc., available for use. Composers at work using 20th-century means for making music. Performances of results. Organization of sound for extramusical purposes (theatre, dance, radio, film).”

Monoliths and Dimensions is Cage’s Center smeared across two-plus years and two continents, conveyed by the matryoshka of commercial signifiers that includes metal, slow music, doom, Southern Lord, Sunn O))), and so on. Monoliths’ advance press release in its canny first line of defense: “The album is not ‘Sunn 0))) with strings’ or ‘metal meets orchestra.’” The album is metal with trombones, with a men’s choir, with a women’s choir, with strings, with strings in between tones, with flute, with all manner of horns, with harp, with guys who played with Coltrane and Hancock and Sun Ra, in a church, with a Hungarian accent, all at once. A polished, flawlessly designed document, in the tow of a steely and professional public-relations push, Monoliths and Dimensions reports the recent efforts of the Center of Experimental Music—Southern Lord/Avant Metal Extension.

Live, Sunn O))) invoke metal’s visual signifiers with smoke machines and costuming. Audience members get in on the act with glacial headbanging and goat claws. At the outset of the metal branch of Slow Music, such hollow references may have served as useful points of entry for the metal-raised listener/consumers who have given Southern Lord Records its impressively loyal, sustaining, and staunch target demographic. But lo-fi noise padding between the tremendous essential content of Monoliths and Dimensions are only hollow props of Camp Metal, which empty out the ambitious symbolic brood comb the album otherwise rigorously builds. At this advanced period in the development of the Slow Music project, such determinate symbols, both live and recorded, are becoming increasingly ripe for a good weeding.

That all being said, one of metal-biographic photography’s most kick-ass moments lies smack dab in the center of the hyper-slick liner notes of Monoliths and Dimensions: an overhead photo of Sunn O)))’s four riff-smiths standing in hooded cloaks on the otherwise vacant tier of a terrific Aztecan temple.

Two closing questions, least interesting first: If the virtue of all-in metal is that it is a spectacle of excess, what is the moral concept it attempts to purvey? How did New Music end up here?

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Curtis Jensen

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