Review: Sunn O))) ‘Metta, Benevolence. BBC6 Music: Live On The invitation Of Mary Anne Hobbs’

Sunn O))) aficionados will enjoy the bands most recent addition to their oeuvre, the live release; Metta, Benevolence BBC 6Music: Live on the Invitation of Mary Anne Hobbs. The title aptly alludes to it being a live album recorded in the John Peel studio for Mary Anne Hobbs. The recording took place on the back of a UK tour in 2019 and the tracks are improvised around the core, or root, compositions from the Pyroclast and Life Metal albums.

Sunn O))) ‘Metta, Benevolence. BBC6 Music: Live On The invitation Of Mary Anne Hobbs’

As with a nice portion of Sunn O))) albums Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are joined by some friends, namely Stephen Moore, Tos Nieuwenhuizen, Tim Midyett, and Anna von Hausswolff whose addition provide exceptional playing expressed through synth action in abundance, plus a little trombone, electric bass and voice.

There is a vastness in the tracks on this album, however, it’s an imploding vastness of a vacuum, rather than exploding and extending an endless audial horizon. By this I mean the pieces pull you to the centre of a musical nucleus, coloured with the vibrant nuances of synth and vocals that appear joyous, like opening a container of the infinite half details of your unravelling sense of familiarity. A trombone leads your unfurling into the confusion of fading recognition, like a cluttered room full of personal objects, albeit with attached memories that tend to confound you.

There is a vastness in the tracks on this album…

A first listen, the album brought to mind Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s film Sátántangó, 7.5 hours of slow cinema; the poetry of visual seduction and the fully immersive experience. I found the album led me to some of the imagery in that films opening scene, an old factory from which a single cow slowly emerges and makes its way toward the camera, while other cows eventually follow. The abandonment portrayed in the nine-minute scene follows the cows which plod in the mud through a deserted town accompanied by an aspect of the underlying darkness of our humanistic selves, the naive and curious beasts emerging from the decay of sweaty dreams that have left us dumbfounded.

So, for me, the album is vast and cow-esque, although it asked me to slow down any physical movement that encourages more energy than taking a breath would probably detract from the sensation of deep immersion, or perhaps that’s my choice of musical condiment. The music is very similar to slow cinema, both art forms have a strange tendency to warp time, slow cinema stretches time and invites you to look closely at what is actually unfolding without revealing too much, Sunn O)))‘s album did the same thing for me, it required my full attention, however, it never once directed me.

It led me back to Béla Tarr once again and how he created the scenes in his film The Werckmeister Harmonies. He invited composer Mihaly Vig to create a score for the concept of a film and then played the music on set to which the actors responded and thus the narrative evolved. Which I guess could lead full circle back to the recording of this album.

Label: Southern Lord
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Scribed by: Spencer Reid