Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column, where we review the best in doom, black, speed and every other metal type under the sun.
How do you make a Discogs user erupt in an orgasmic case of rabies? Answer: You tell them that Sunn O))) made a record with Steve Albini. Life Metal is that record, and it more than lives up to that description. It is Sunn O)))’s best sounding record yet: Albini’s recording space gives Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley their warmest, yet most dominating, tones yet. This suits the more back-to-basics approach, where the beyond-huge drones are no longer just the core, but the whole damn planet. It’s a flip to 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, their most outward-looking record that featured big choirs, unusual instrumentation, and tributes to Alice Coltrane. Even so, they pull off their riskiest move from the start: opening with a sample of Bathory’s “Odens Ride Over Nordland,” the greatest metal intro of all time from one of the greatest records of all time, Blood Fire Death. Instead of going to celestial battle, though, “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” lets us float into space and have our matter dissipate into a still-breathing, if only semi-conscious, liquid. “Breaths” is a compact version of Monoliths’ excursions, with only one vocalist and cello augmenting thanks to Iceland’s Hildur Guðnadóttir. Sunn O))) have always been meditative — they were tagged as “power ambient” early on, which isn’t entirely inaccurate — but they’ve never been so body-melting as they are on Life Metal. “Troubled Air” is drone gone to divinity school, with organ from Australian composer Anthony Pateras that makes their transcendent tones become pure light, where the one true God above, a two-headed figure that’s Jon Lord and Tony Iommi combined, brings you into an embrace. Closer “Novæ” stretches 25 minutes into eternity and feels like going into the universe’s Styx, approaching a near-quiet final descent only to come back more roaring toward the end. Sunn O))) may have one foot firmly in the avant, but they are metal as fuck. It’s a new favorite record from one of my longtime favorite groups. (I recently got to speak with Anderson and O’Malley for Bandcamp’s Big Ups series, where they recommended cool shit on the platform.)
New York cyber-hardcore group L.O.T.I.O.N., led by vocalist and noted punk artist Alexander Heir, are evangelists against Skynet, militarizing against an eye instead of wanting you toward it. World Wide W.E.B. is their second full-length campaign, unleashing buzzsaw guitar and anti-tech industrial beats in an even bigger assault. W.E.B. moves like hardcore infected by machinery, human rhythms made colder and more lethal, sputtering and slashing when they don’t respond to a command for absolute perfection. “Gabber Punks on Dabs/Downed Police Helicopter” isn’t quite gabber, but it does sound like what happens when a punk’s basement shows have more laptops and subs than amps and guitars. “This Is L.O.T.I.O.N.” is the thrashiest they’ve been, in a “Slayer biting Flower Travelin’ Band on ‘Raining Blood’” way. Though “Hardware” and “I.C.B.M.” both have mid-paced post-punk tempos, it would be a shame to call them “dance-punk,” because they’re still too blown-up and dirgy for club play. Maybe if Tech Noir was taken over by T-800s, legions of cyborgs dry-humping skin-on-metal. Rumor has it that if you play the album at a certain time, it acts as a real life GTA cheat code that gives you a rocket launcher so you can blow up a police helicopter. Still figuring that out, but it’s worth looking into. And if you can’t blow up the pigs, vid the pigs.
Y’all’s favorite international avant-black metal trio 夢遊病者 (aka Sleepwalker) is back with Ѫ (Yus), a two-song EP that’s their shortest, but their most confounding yet. They’ve traded the blackened Downtown New York vibe for something slower, even foggier than their already fascinatingly opaque works. Its black metal moments feel not only is it shrouded, they’re sounds like it’s floating away from their center. They’re as though they cut of that limb and the limb gained its own sentience and began going off. Sleepwalker knows how to cage an animal and let it still roar. The second track “Last Utterance” begins with murky guitar explosions that jerk violently underneath the mist, sounding both planned and random. Somehow, I feel Sonny Sharrock is nodding in approval, whatever plane he’s in. (Sidenote: Here’s a Sharrock piece that resonated with me this month.) At times, they approach Grails’ freer post-rock, which has the magic of being focused while always trailing off. This is especially true of “Last,” which sounds like lounge music in the most splendid purgatory. It’s reminiscent of Dale Cooper Quartet without the underlying Red Room schmaltz; Sleepwalker may guise evil in a veil, but still know that menace is important.
You can find ‘Yus’ on Bandcamp here.
Andy O’Connor heads SPIN’s monthly metal column, Blast Rites, and also has bylines in Pitchfork, Vice, Decibel, Texas Monthly and Bandcamp Daily, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas.