Sunn O))) / OM - Koko, London

The beards and hair are in full attendance tonight. Sunn O))) may not be your ordinary metal band – their esoteric sound appeals equally to the hipsters present than to straight-ahead metal dudes - but the audience certainly veers in the facial hair direction. Quite what they make of the support, OM, is anyone’s guess, but they are a thrilling experience. Featuring Al Cisneros from Californian stoner doom legends Sleep on bass and Grails drummer Emil Amos (replacing Chris Haikus, who was also in Sleep), plus a bearded dude grinning manically while playing various percussive instruments, OM’s hour onstage is a superbly atmospheric, intense ride, with elements of psychedelia, sitar drone, and stoner bass riffs all incorporated, and filled with space and ghostly echoes that wouldn’t be out of place on a dub record. That they manage to fill the venue with booming sound with such a small amount of equipment – bass, drums, percussion and the occasional sample – is testament to their brilliance as musicians (Amos in particular is transfixing, as superb a drummer you’re likely to see). Intense and lost in his huge basslines, Cisneros chants what sounds like religious imagery, incantation and who knows what, leaving the audience spellbound as the band vacate the stage at the end of their set.

While OM were bathed in minimal intense red light during their set, Sunn O))) – comprising the core duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson - engage in pantomime even before they take to the stage, with horror film music blasted over the tannoy (leading one audience member to shout, “He’s behind you!” to general laughter) while the roadies test their phalanx of amps at the back of the stage. The horror film music, while amusing, rapidly begins to become tiresome, though it’s a change from their gig at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins (curated by Portishead), when they accidentally lit off the smoke alarm, and appeared onstage with an automated woman’s voice instructing everyone to leave the venue (and went on to have a bizarre onstage fight). As before, the stage rapidly resembles an industrial zone, with ludicrous amounts of dry ice and red and blue smoke pumped out, making the band – when they do come on – virtually invisible to the audience. Though ostensibly the band have their latest album, "Monoliths & Dimensions", to promote – from which they play the opener “Agartha” (or at least what sounds like it) - they essentially do what Sun O))) have always done onstage: dress as monks and play one long song (or at least pretty much one song) with low-end riffs at earsplitting volume, and at funeral pace, aided by various musicians. As before, there is a keyboardist, while, in this case, there’s also somewhat bizarrely a trumpeter (who also appears on "Monoliths…") – and, stage centre, their ever-dependable singer, the Hungarian Atilla Csihar (aka the Void). Dressed like a seven foot member of the tree people in "The Lord of the Rings", Csihar’s swanky outfit emits red lasers from his fingers, which flirt around the venue as he growls impenetrably; for all we know, he could be reciting his shopping list.

His commanding presence is, essentially, part of the parcel of Sunn O))) live, essentially "Spinal Tap" took to its ludicrous, bombastic extreme. We could be witnessing Stonehenge or the malfunctioning pods onstage, and Anderson and O’Malley know it. Sun O)))’s live performances are so ludicrous and bombastic that the only sensible reaction is to laugh. Yet behind the costumes and the pantomime, the ironic references to the excesses of Black Metal, and the all-encompassing wave of low-end noise emanating from the stage like a lake of fire – one that you feel in every bone - there’s clearly a clued-up and savvy duo onstage, enjoying the ludicrous nature of their beast in action. What they will do next is the real question; like most jokes, the amusement will eventually start to wear thin. Until then, though, the best way to enjoy Sun O))) is to stand back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. There’s no encore, of course; the audience has been pummelled to such submission that none is really needed.

Last updated: 18/04/2018 17:38:05

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