If the blueprint for a standard black metal debut is Darkthrone worship,1 then for drone/doom, the band to imitate is Earth. The group’s debut full-length – titled Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version – is a hallmark of the utilization of guitar textures to create a distinct anti-rock, even ambient sound. The shoegazers might’ve dealt in dreamy abstractness and the post-rockers might’ve written nine-minute epics that were nigh orchestral in composition, but it wasn’t until a little Seattle group signed to Sub Pop2 and took the minimalism of LaMonte Young et al. to its logical extreme via the context of rock music that the full boundaries of guitar space-outs were once again pushed in a way untouched since the progressive rock explosion of the seventies. Earth 2 has since inspired countless acts – from Boris to Horseback – not the least of which is another duo from the same city and with an awfully similar name: Sunn O))).
Sunn O)))’s name is a double entendre. It refers to the Sunn brand of extreme amplifiers and nods to the band’s Earth predecessors; even the band’s logo is almost identical to that of the Sunn company.3 As with Boris on Absolutego, Sunn O))) started off with a release highly indebted to (and it would not be unfair to say derivative of) Earth – more so than their releases of the past decade, which have included influences from such disparate genres as black metal, Coltrane jazz, spoken word, Buddhist iconography, and opera. This is The Grimmrobe Demos, officially announced as a collection of early demos but ostensibly the group’s debut full-length release.
Extreme metal giant Hydra Head Records4 released The Grimmrobe Demos in a limited release of five hundred in early 1999. In 2005, Southern Lord Records, which is owned by Sunn O))) member Greg Anderson, reissued the album along with an additional live track. True to Earth 2 form, each of the four tracks are extremely long recordings of sub-bass frequencies laced with guitar feedback as the band members hold chords for as long as possible before the next strum. Effects are minimal: “Black Wedding” has a whirring texture that occasionally pops up, “Dylan Carlson” has extended layers of vaguely buzzsaw guitars and the most overdubs, and live track “Grimm & Bear It” has a crackling production that exemplifies the absolute punishing listening experience that is a Sunn O))) live concert. “Defeating: Earth’s Gravity” is a relatively basic drone metal track with no embellishment.
Although simplistic in comparison to the rest of the discography of Sunn O))) – not to mention Boris, Earth, the Melvins, and other drone/doom/sludge metal giants – The Grimmrobe Demos demonstrates a promising debut in the heaviest of heavy metal. It would be all too easy for the basic concept of drone metal to be a boring, unlistenable mess; but like their classical and electronic forefathers, Sunn O))) found a way to release stimulating and sonically interesting releases through extremely impressive production that captures every vibration and snap that the guitars create in their enveloping sound, in addition to having a deep understanding of the music that they make rather than experiment for experiment’s sake. It’s the sound of sonic overdrive to its very limit, and it’s overpowering in the most pleasant of ways.
1. Black Wedding – (19:16) – ★★★★☆
2. Defeating: Earth’s Gravity – (14:58) – ★★★☆☆
3. Dylan Carlson – (21:32) – ★★★★★
4. Grimm and Bear It [2005 Reissue Bonus Track] – (16:40) – ★★★★☆
1E.g. Deathspell Omega, Nachtmystium, Satyricon… even Behemoth.
2Of all the record labels in grunge’s heyday, Sub Pop is a hell of a score for a band this eclectic in taste.
3… which was acquired by Fender in 2002.
4… whose roster also includes Cave In, Isis, Old Man Gloom, Converge, Botch, and Pelican.