Sunn O)))’s latest is an existential mirror covered in hoarfrost. Each of the LP’s three tracks is vast and indifferent, beckoning the mind to project its own imagery onto the aural canvas. Via Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s hopeless droning, these images are then reflected back in horrifically mutated forms.
While the band’s past two releases, Soused and Terrestrials, were collaborative works, Kannon is Sunn O)))’s first solo LP since 2009’s stunning and masterful Monoliths And Dimensions. (Although, with Sunn O))), “solo” is relative: Like many of the band’s releases, Kannon features Attila Csihar, Oren Ambarchi, Rex Ritter, Steve Moore, and multiple other musicians.) Pulsing with cellos, violins, and horns, Monoliths And Dimensions has the intricacy and nuance of a Beethoven symphony. But Kannon returns to the sparse cruelty of early Sunn O))).
“Kannon 1” begins with a delicate hum, which O’Malley enshrouds in a guitar progression that churns like the Arctic Ocean. In the Such Hawks Such Hounds documentary, Anderson says that he and O’Malley started Sunn O))) with the modus operandi of playing Earth riffs in slow motion, and the influence of Dylan Carlson’s depressive twang is palpable in the main section of “Kannon 1.” Feedback buzzes like a cloud of flies before Csihar releases a ghastly vocal drone, which sounds similar to the Faun’s eerie utterances in Pan’s Labyrinth. When Anderson plays his first bass note, it shifts the song’s tectonic plates.
An industrial yawn opens “Kannon 2,” over which O’Malley unleashes an auditory bulldozer with rusted spikes jutting from its blade—a riff pushed by sauntering high notes and town-demolishing lows. Anderson imprisons this progression in sub-bass reverberations as a baritone choir moans a reprise that would be fitting for a suicide cult. Throughout this track, Sunn O))) exemplifies its unmatched ability to use amplification as a way to access the most primal regions of the brain. Finally, an insistent cymbal roll guides “Kannon 2” into a simultaneously menacing and soothing electronic drone.
The last portion of this triadic album starts with a peaceful whirr that gets offset by portentous feedback. A Khanate-esque doom sequence, which is laced with glass shards, then becomes the center of gravity for “Kannon 3.” Anderson and O’Malley play so slowly that it’s disorienting, and the return of the suicide chorus only magnifies this song’s malevolence. Csihar returns as well, traversing between black metal howls and otherworldly groans. Clocking in at over 11 minutes, this cut evokes something akin to a dissociative fugue.
Kannon feels like a magnetic pole for the despair that permeates society, which is fitting, considering that the album deals with the Buddhist concept of “Perceiving The Sounds (Or Cries) Of The World.” This is the soundtrack to the decline of our species, once again illustrating that Sunn O))) is one of the most interesting and progressive groups in heavy music.