Sunn O))) - La Mort Noir Dans Esch/Alzette (Southern Lord CD) & Sunn O)))/Earth - Angel Coma (Southern Lord LP)

If the artwork on these two new Sunn O)))-related discs is any indication, Coil have got it all backwards. Gold isn't the metal with the broadest shoulders...the metal with the broadest shoulders is, in fact, gold. Dig? And these two discs, much like pure gold itself, are now something of a rarity. Both were tour-only (although a finite number of the "Angel Coma" splits were available through Southern Lord's mail order) and both will now set you back quite aways on eBay - the first one in particular went for as high as $150 recently, which is just absolutely bullshit insane if you ask me. In fact, there may be an even greater reason why "La Mort Noir Dans Esch/Alzette" is already fetching collector's prices online, and it's because it's the center of a tiny little controversy apparently involving Malefic, the man behind Xasthur (and I guess a now-former Sunn collaborator). Of course, that all depends if you believe everything you read on these here Internets. Drone drama! I digress.
In fact, it's a real pity "La Mort" is so limited, because it's a great disc. As a matter of fact, this is what Sunn should have released instead of "Black One". First of all it doesn't rely on tedious, atmosphere-conjuring gimmicks like said album's Immortal cover as one example. Whereas I personally felt "Black One" tried too hard to create a feeling of contempt, misanthropia, and, well, blackness, "La Mort" does it all without even really trying, while still showcasing Sunn O)))'s true talents. Because this, no fooling, is one aggressive album, recorded live at Alzette Kulturfabrik in Esch/Alzette Luxembourg. The group opens up with six minutes of "Orthodox Caveman" a track you may recall from the "Black One" album (or Earth's "Seven Angels", from which it borrowed heavily), which was hands down one of the best tracks on the duo's last album and a good place to start the set. This opener leads directly into the 21-minute "Hallow-Cave", which I guess is an improvisation though I'm sure it incorporates riffs from other Sunn tracks that I just can't place. This is Sunn at their absolute best - piling riff atop riff until you're suffocating underneath a sheer hellish miasma. Tune down, turn on, drop out.
"Reptile Lux", track number three, is a bit more dynamic in terms of guitar wrenching and...horns? Not goat horns, I swear I could make out some brass instrument being abused. The aforementioned Malefic appears on this track with howled, pain-filled vocals that at times do recall "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" but the musical backdrop is a hundred times more gripping than that of the Immortal cover. Fifteen minutes later it's closing time and the band launch into the closer "CandleGoat/Bathori", coupling another set of "Black One" songs but making them sound so much more vile and disease-ridden. Malefic croons on this baby too. According to the liner notes, TOS Nieuwenhuizen of Beaver/35007 plays (synths, I'm assuming, since that's what he played on the "Black One" live bonus disc) as well as Steve Moore (research tells me he does trombone with Earth live these days, so that's definitely what I was hearing...awesome!) and the almighty Dylan Carlson is in here somewhere too. Quite the cast of characters. Like I said before, this is what "Black One" should have been - eliminate all the unnecessary bells and whistles and you've still got an album that winds up sounding twice as damning.
The split with Earth, however, is a bit of a different story. Side one is Sunn's "Coma Mirror", with a line up consisting up Xasthur (on "throat"), Mystic Robe Chekk (that'd be Greg Anderson), Drone Slut (that'd be Stephen O'Malley), TOS (Nieuwenhuizen) and White Out (John Wiese). Great lineup again, but the band sounds like they're on auto-pilot on this side...basically I can imagine the Sunn guys handing a "Black One" outtake to Wiese, telling him to remix it, and him coming up with this as a result. Malefic's windy screaming layered on top of white noise static with nary a riff in sight, for about 15 minutes. Hmm...not to say it's bad per se, but it's not very fulfilling either.
The good news is that Earth make up for it with a total monster in "A Plague of Angels", previously available on "Live Hex; in a Large City on the North American Continent" but represented here in studio form. The piece is also aided greatly by the addition of Randall Dunn on low frequency oscillator and Steve Moore on trumpet/mellotron. The track is very much in the same vein as the songs from the "Hex" album (and I wouldn't be surprised if it was an outtake as well) and there's something instantly charming about how grandiose it is. From the first minute it comes on, you just know. Like an amazing fusion of drone, old Western soundtracks, Ennio Morricone, and the best post-rock band ever created. The side comes to a close with a very understated, almost sublime kind of climax where if you blink, it's gone. Absolutely aces, like being washed in the blood of the lamb.
Both releases are packaged quite nicely, the LP in particular has a glossy gold sleeve and plays on gold vinyl. The closest either band will ever get to a gold record!


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