An unpenetrable fog, a silent crowd. Somewhere a lone fist rises up, over there someone is gazing at their shoes. Without any drums to give rhythm, using only guitar feedback and low growling vocals, the music of Sunn O))) slowly infiltrates the subconscious, creating an unforgettable live music experience.
Sunn O))). Photo: Janne Sund
Even before a single sound is heard, a thick fog is already hanging in the tent covering Metelli Stage, making it almost impossible to see what’s happening on stage. Briefly, the faint silhouette of a hooded figure can be seen amid the fog and the crowd raises their hands high. The ensuing music can best be described by words such as thrumming, buzzing and crackling. Sporadically the droning ambiance is punctuated by sharp dissonant chords that seem to jut out of the wall of sound. The strange landscape of fog and sound evokes a feeling of being at the set of a horror movie.
For the first 15 minutes of the show the soundscape remains monotone, maintaining a constant level. Few new elements are introduced, there is only a constant gurgling buzz. This is more typical for the end parts of the band’s shows, where they first create a controlled chaos of sounds, which is left to hang in the air and settle into a looming drone. This time however, the initial clash is absent and the notes just seem to stretch into infinity.
The experience is very confusing at first, but after a while the mind starts to process the sounds to find something to use for reference. The brain struggles, but finds nothing to pick out. It makes no difference either whether the eyes are closed or not, as the fog obstructs everything. The music entwines the listener in a smothering but relaxing state of zen, dragging them deep into the folds of their own soul. One is forced to look within themselves and starts to wonder, if this is this one of those gigs that is a transformational experience, one that you walk away from as a different person.
The first words breach the wall of sound close to the 20 minute mark. At this point the vocals can’t really be called singing, the voice could better be described as very low, rasp speech and breathing sounds. Suddenly the pitch peaks but quickly settles back into a low murmur, which starts to shape into a growl and finally into something more melodical, like pseudo-singing, only to return back to the thrumming drone it started as. Heavy effects are applied to the vocals, which amplify the low frequencies of the growls and snarls, and make the more shrill notes resemble the sound of wind.
The sense of time is lost entirely, and the only chronology of significance becomes that of the evolution of new features in the music. The sound has no recognizable structure, there are no verses, only a one-way slow flow of droning notes. The vocals seem to include a hint of panic. The show climbs into a climax, as the vocals morph into a growling o-sound that brings to mind Tibetan throat singing, while the established low guitar notes continue to loop around in the background.
Out of nowhere come violent screams that really manage to jump-scare a listener new to the band. After 45 minutes of the show have passed the vocals fade out never to be heard again. The soundcape reverts back to being dominated by the deep drones of manipulated feedback. Meanwhile the fog has grown so thick that on top of shrouding the stage it now envelops the few front rows of people too. The crowd huddles closer to the stage and the people around are dissolved into shapes in the fog.
The listeners have been bewitched by the music, the tent is packed with people. Mats have been rolled out on the fringes of the crowd and people can be seen sitting, meditating. A number of couples stand locked into an embrace, as if the have forgotten to let go. Some are standing motionless with their heads hung, while someone else still spreads their arms and lifts their face up to the ceiling, frozen. People wear an expressionless face of serenity. Towards the closing of the show the sounds grow ever lower and and louder, the body starts to resonate with the endless, deep thrum.
Bewitched by Sunn O))). Photo: Antti Pitkäjärvi
The hooded figures of the band members only emerge from the fog as the music has already stopped. Three of them can be seen taking a bow and leaving the stage followed by the ovations of the crowd. Someone in the crowd has seen Sunn O))) perform before:
– They were just as great as previous times. The hook for me is the feelings the show creates in people, nobody really knows how to react.
Even when leaving behind the dark tent and entering the sunshine again, one is left feeling like a sleepwalker for a long time. The whole experience is hard to put into words. Within the macrocosm of Ilosaarirock, Sunn O))) manages to create their own microcosm which leaves a visitor feeling ecstatic.
Text: Anne Tuovinen Photos: Janne Sund and Antti Pitkäjärvi Translation: Reko Laurilehto