2008 marked the 10th anniversary of pioneering drone-doom band Sunn O))) –10 years since founding members Stephen O’Malley (ex-Khanate) and Greg Anderson (ex-Goatsnake, Southern Lord Records) released the thick slab of rumbling Earth-inspired doom known as The Grimmrobe Demos. To celebrate this historic event, the two embarked on a four-city U.S. tour, playing material exclusively from this album to take audiences back to the band’s dark beginnings.
The tour followed the Japanese concept of Shoshin, meaning a return to and respect for that which is pure–a performance without usual Sunn O))) contributors: no keyboards and no voice from frequent vocal collaborator Attila Csihar (Mayhem). Audiences would only experience the most primal Sunn O))) compositions, consisting solely of towering walls of down-tuned chords and heavy bass feedback.
On Oct. 16, 2008, I walked into the chapel area of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, Pa., accompanied by an excited, unwashed crowd of doom enthusiasts. For the performance, the entire chapel was illuminated solely by candlelight and the church’s ancient pipe organ played quietly, adding to the eerie atmosphere of the evening. My eyes found the stage and were greeted by eight full stacks of Sunn amplifiers (the band takes its name from this company).
The opening band, Thou, playedshortly thereafter, for around 20 minutes. I had no qualms with them musically; I enjoyed their unique brand of thrash-heavy doom. What made them intolerable was their vocalist, who was fond of preaching trite post-apocalyptic messages and suicide-related babble between songs.
Finally, Sunn O))) took the stage. O’Malley and Anderson–clad in their trademark hooded robes–ascended to the pulpit, picked up their respective instruments and began. The sound grew, as layer upon layer of chords were piled on top of one another, accompanied by intense bass feedback. The fire from the candles around us danced along to the throbbing sub-harmonic mass. I looked into the audience. Some were at complete attention, captivated by the two lone men onstage producing this absolutely frightening cacophony, while others were hunched over, or curled up on the pew, overtaken by the frequencies. I sat back and tried to focus. The sound came in waves, washing over me, producing a strange calming effect.
At the 90-minute mark, the volume and intensity reached a rumbling climax. Anderson struck a final chord and placed his guitar on top of his amps, where it remained despite the near-destructive rumbling they produced. O’Malley did the same and turned every knob on every amp to its fullest setting. They switched the amps off, and all went silent. A standing ovation was then issued and we departed.