SUNN 0)))/OM @ THE ASYLUM, BIRMINGHAM BY ENCOULE 10/12/09
Your scribe and guest arrive early doors to queue outside the venue in the cold. Security is tight, and so is the guest list (thanks Lauren!). The uber lords of hipster metal are in town for further veneration of such revered local antecedents as Napalm Death and Bolt Fucking Thrower.
“I haven’t queued outside a gig like this for years”, chirped Russ Tempest. “Yeah, time-warp“, I concurred, “a Drongos For Europe poster!” Fifteen gonad-freezing minutes later we are at the door, blagging the guest list, and in the venue. The Asylum, a recently convened venture with an estimated capacity of around five hundred, is situated a stone head’s throw out of town, just beyond the ring road. The crowd is decent, hardly a sell-out, but probably numbering something like three hundred intrigued punters. The merch stall is doing brisk business, and it’s refreshing to note that the auld ‘buy a band tee and wear it over the top of my jumper’ routine has lost none of its apparently eternal appeal.
Om take to the stage and begin their ritual incantations. Having gotten over Om sometime after their second album, the duo’s palette of drums, bass and vocals soon had me leaning against the mixing consol, eve-dreaming of comfortable seating arrangements. Our Russ, on the other hand, was nothing but impressed, a view obviously shared by the rest of the audience. Positive comments ensued around us, compliements fell like confetti, and minds were duly blown, man! The early part of the set came on like some kind of mid-70s dub-wise experiment, and, for around 10-minutes, I was skanking along in agreement. Eventually, as the energy regressed and the amusing between-song banter failed to arrive, the constant re-tuning of Cisneros’ bass and his total lack of stage presence destroyed any hint of atmosphere, and had me checking the clock on my mobile at regular intervals. Weirdly, the crowd began to thin somewhat as Om left the stage. By the time Anderson and O’Malley arrived, the audience was around a third smaller than it had been for the support.
The moment the monolithic chords of ‘Aghartha’ struck out into the night, floating atop the cascades of dry ice, my calf muscles began to literally vibrate. Having seen sunn 0))) and Boris on the ‘Altar’ tour, I had some idea of what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of volume sunn 0))) achieve in smaller venues. I began to think of the logical implications of the term ‘brown noise’, and clenched my buttocks in accord. Attila’s arrival on stage coincided with a red light appearing in the roof above the mixing desk. Every time he approached the microphone to emit his trademark Ginsbergian howl, the machine with the red light beeped . . . and the vocals cut out! Now, with regard and due respect to this kind of technology, I am a raving luddite, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’ve interpreted this incident incorrectly, but whatever it was in reality, it somewhat ruined the blackened vibe. Sure, the volume grew and grew, and the vibrations in my calves moved up to my thighs, then my testicles, then my stomach, and, eventually, began to rattle my ribcage as if I were riding a washing machine on spin dry. People were visibly wobbling, hanging on to each other for grim death, myth would later have it that some punters actually fainted! Russ was in awe, but obviously feeling his inner pain. On the hour mark, the vibrations had risen to my throat, and my neck was juddering. I was beginning to feel nauseous. I turned to our Russ and gesticulated toward the exit, he was right behind me, happy he’d seen, and felt, enough.
As we vacated the venue, our ears ringing like the bells of Bergen Cathedral, a witty bouncer said smugly, “too much for ya, eh lads?” In many ways, he was right. Anderson and O’Malley often talk of waiting for the drone bubble to burst, and in many respects it has. Front covers of Terrorizor, The Wire and Rock-a-rolla are one thing, a double-page spread in Mojo another, and it would appear that the community from whence they came, so to speak, are generally not impressed with the progression being made in the sunn 0))) camp. With artists as feral and as fiercely independent as Wicked King Wicker, Blue Sabbath Black Cheer and Wraiths snapping at their heels, sunn 0))) have already been surpassed thematically by some considerably distance. For this writer, despite his genuine affection for both Black One and Monoliths and Dimensions, sunn o)))’s active role as boundary pushers is effectively over. The emperor has finally been de-robed.