This past Monday, I went to the South Side’s Rex Theater to see the experimental metal band Sunn O))) (Pronounced Sun). Bearing the torch originally lit by Earth in the early 1990s, Sunn O))) makes long, distorted drones characterized by their footholds in doom and black metal.
Their shows are well-known to rupture unprotected eardrums (thankfully I remembered my ear plugs), and they are the purveyors of one of metal’s influential independent record labels, Southern Lord. Having been into the band in various extents since I first heard them, I jumped at the chance to catch them in Pittsburgh.
After I got settled at the show with a spot near the front, I took in the stage set up. I looked up to find a circle of amps all about 5 feet high taking up most of the stage. At that point, I truly began to realize what I was in for. It was nearing the end of setup, and a powerful smoke machine let out a few billowing clouds of fog, a fog so thick that for a while I was unable to see any of the people standing immediately near me. At that moment, the band took the stage all dressed in cloaks that obscured their faces. With the smoke filling the room, all I was able to see on stage were shadows of the performers in their cloaks.
Finally, the band was set up and the music began. Their set started with a series of chant-like sounds from their vocalist. After he set set the atmosphere, the band began to play as another round of smoke traveled swiftly through the venue. As soon as the sound hit, I was instantly enveloped. The sound, a pulsating wave of feedback, drove itself right through me, my body vibrating like I had never felt before. Since I was mostly unable to see anything around me but the shadows of the band on stage, it felt as if I was suspended in sound, as if my body wasn’t even present in that moment. This continued for a little over an hour, the sound barely changing from the original notes. In some ways, you could call it the meditation I always wished I could have. The only thing that was missing was a chair. For all intents and purposes, this band was essentially playing the sounds you hear a live band’s instruments make between songs for an entire set, and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. As my friend so perfectly put it, “Sunn O)))’s set cleared my sinuses.”