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(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

Sunn O))) at the Barbican, London - live review

Sunn O))) shine at this prestigious London venue

For most bands with roots in the underground metal scene, the Barbican would seem an unnatural venue, but for Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s crew, doubling as a flesh’n’ blood art installation has long been part of the deal. All that remains is to see if the building collapses as they hit peak rumble.

Sunn alumnus and current live member Hildur Gunadóttir contributes a spellbinding set of her own, doing extraordinary things with voice and cello. Her ability to transform feedback and hazy harmonics into startling and otherworldly washes of sound, all underpinned by a refined sense of dynamics, is nothing short of miraculous.

But it soon becomes apparent that no amount of preparation can protect our fragile synapses from the bewildering avalanche to come. Sunn O)))’s set begins with becloaked vocalist Attila Csihar, spot-lit and shrouded in dry ice, delivering a perverse and ominous solo piece, replete with maniacal hand gestures and evil preacher charisma. It’s a wilfully obtuse and slightly overlong precursor to the arrival of the band, but when O’Malley and Anderson’s guitars finally erupt through their wall of speakers, the entire room is drawn into the eye of the storm.

A thick fog of dry ice is belching from every corner of the stage and, thanks to some inspired lighting, turns the strange vista before us into something akin to a lost scene from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surrealist movie masterpiece The Holy Mountain. On a musical level, they are on astonishing form, too. Passages that recall Aghartha (from 2009’s Monoliths And Dimensions) and certain parts of Kannon, the band’s most recent studio album, are just about the only breadcrumbs offering a route to familiar realities. Sunn O))) are conjuring fresh magic here, forging a path through swamps of skull-shattering low-end, bursts of feedback and noise, and one bewitching passage interspersed with strident, melancholy trombone.

Even at these insane volume levels, every sound is clear and rich in emotional power. Ending with what sounds like
a mutant version of CandleGoat, Sunn O))) have never looked or sounded more monumental and, against the odds, they have somehow made this highbrow Mecca seem like their natural habitat.