Sunn O))) - Oracle (Southern Lord LP)
I like to envision a world where I hated this album and would spend the rest of my days slagging it off with a variety of comical puns. I had em all thought up - Snore-acle, Bore-acle, Chore-acle, Rather Listen to Gang of Fouracle...I woulda been king, at least on the internet. But then, you know, responsibilities intruded and I thought "well maybe I should actually buy it and hear it first", but I wasn't in no hurry. It was only when I felt compelled to order Southern Lord's 2xLP reissue of Velvet Cacoon's "Genevieve" (oh yes) that I decided to take the plunge. $17 for a gatefold-ed 180g LP ain't so tough, not to mention the free CD it comes with (more on that later). If you keep up at all with Sunn O))) or Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic website, you surely recognize the "Oracle" art from the installation the group did with New York sculptor Banks Violette. In June of last year, Biolette created resin and salt casts of all Sunn O))) related equipment and epherma - amplifiers, instruments, the like. The B-side of this record, "Orakulum", was composed especially for the installation ("to generate a feeling of absence, loss and a phantom of what once was") while the A-side is the "experiment" "Belulrol Pusztit" which I'm assuming was recorded at the same time since the same line-up is pretty much the same - the Sunn core of O'Malley and Greg Anderson with featured players Attila Csihar (Mayhem) and Atsuo (Boris). Joe Preston (Thrones) plays only on the first track.
The experiment behind the A-side "Belulrol Pusztit" is that it's origins lie in Sunn's contribution to the "Jukebox Buddha" compilation, featuring artists manipulating FM3's Buddha Machine to produce new mutant hybrid works. The group had them run through their backline at maximum volume, slowed down to produce gaping ghostly tones that only vaguely share skeletons with their original sources (and actually kinda sound like the bell/gong that rang in "Bathory Erzsebet" on "Black One"). Above the icy ambience, the guitar duo of O'Malley and Anderson spreads additional grinding drones, bleak and drenched with bile and viscera. Atsuo's drumming contributions are kept to a minimum at first but as the track crawls along his cymbal twinkles shine through more and more until he's actually hitting the snare and bass drum in a helter-skelter rhythm similar to Dale Crover on the Melvins' equally monolithic "Divorced". However it's Preston and Csihar who steal the show, and it'd be pretty hard for them not to - Csihar's incredible vocal breadth dominates any time it's used to its fullest potential and "Belulrol" is no exception. Through gasps, shrieks, howls, and guttural belching, Csihar single-handedly conjures up spellbinding visions of abyss and apocalypse. Lyrics are included for both tracks, but I don't speak Norwegian. Preston on the other hand is a focal point due in large part to inevitability - it's hard to ignore a guy playing a jackhammer. This isn't "oh it sounds like a jackhammer", this is Joe Preston playing a jackhammer, at least if you take their word for it. It's certainly the unmistakeable sound of a jackhammer, which is more a problem than anything else. It doesn't really mesh with the churning pool of desolate sound everyone else worked so hard to summon - it just really sounds like someone playing a jackhammer over a Sunn track. But hey, that's why these things are called experiments, right? Anyway it's not used enough to ruin the track, though I much prefer it when Atsuo re-enters to bolster Attila's demonic inhalations as the quintet swirl downwards and finally hit absolute zero, with the faint strains of the Buddha Machine filtering back in as the guitars drift off.
"Orakulum" is stripped down in comparison to its predecessor, and more traditional live Sunn fare. O'Malley and Anderson's sludgy guitar filth forms the constantly-shifting basis the track, piling riffs mountain-high. Their sustained power chord drones at times seem to osmose into pure electricity, at least until the fingers are lifted and the next rumble is pushed out. Atsuo abandons the drum kit entirely and focuses on adding extra shading via ominous gong strikes as Attila, in slightly more restrained but no less vitriolic form, spews out more word-destroying incantations with the aide of an echo pedal. Like I said before, no idea what's being said, but he's still preaching to the choir. Less to say about this one because it's pretty steady the whole way through, but it's definitely the better realized of the two tracks, if not the more memorable. In fact I always feel lousy reviewing Sunn records so recently after hearing them, because even years after their older records came out, I still find myself going back and hearing new things. I can easily see myself doing the same with the tracks on "Oracle", because I get the feeling both require repeated listens if one has any hope whatsoever at getting to the heart of either.
It wouldn't be a Southern Lord release if I didn't mention something about the zany pressing/editions this one's available in. The band says the "official" release is the vinyl version - limited to 7777 copies, 2000 of which are on clear vinyl. If you order the LP through Southern Lord (as I did), you get a free CD version of the album. There was also a tour-only (of course) edition of the CD, with a bonus disc featuring a 46-minute track called "HeliO)))Sophist". I'm assuming this edition is long out of print by now. What complicates things is that the single-CD version (the free one) has the 2xCD tracklist on the back. Or at least mine does. So for the Ultimate Sunn Collector out there, that's four editions to my knowledge - clear vinyl, black vinyl, single-CD and double-CD. But any way you slice it, 17 bones for an LP and a free CD is a great deal (even if the CD is kinda superfluous), so don't even front with the whole greed thing this time around. And get the Velvet Cacoon reissues while you're at it.
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album