Seattle doom band Hissing opened last night's Sunn O))) show at the Gothic Theatre, and the band did its level best to create a menacing, atmospheric set. Montreal-based noise-rock band Big Brave reconciled Robin Wattie's Björk-like warble with eruptive rhythms and slashing double guitars. And both acts were not short on volume. But their collective summer thunderstorm of sound, impressive as it was, paled in comparison to the hurricane of Sunn O))). Combining six full stacks of Sunn amps, two Ampeg full bass stacks and a full stack Orange for Steve Moore's keyboards, along with a Moog going through the P.A. as well as Attila Csihar's seemingly supernaturally low tones and shrieks, and few bands can compete with the physical impact of the Sunn O))).
Read through the YouTube comments on Sunn O))) videos and you'll see a litany of people that just don't get it. Even if those same people were at this impressive show, many would leave within ten minutes because the band isn't aiming to rock you. Bands that merely rock you are common. Witnessing Sunn O))) in the flesh is not just rock theater, and it is not really rock music; it is ritual in more-than-surround-sound because the low end completely permeates every body in the room.
Unless you're a Sunn O))) super-fan, don't try to follow a set list because which songs were played mattered less than the overall experience. That said, it sounded like the last half of the show came from the 2015 album Kannon. There are no hooks in any conventional sense, and the room filled with fog helped to establish a sense of disconnection from regular reality. With the arc welding-esque tones of guitar and techno-sinewy texture of the colossal low tones blasting through the fog, it was like an altered state of consciousness as much as a concert. All the members of the band for the first half of the show wore cowls and robes like followers of a mystical secret society. Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley wielded their guitars like totemic objects and Csihar gestured dramatically as though delivering a sacred incantation or the litany for a collective exorcism.
When Csihar left the stage for an extended period, the remaining band members let loose with a low, dynamic rumble that paralleled the movement of billowing fog that reinforced the shroud of mystery rimming the show. When Csihar returned, he had transformed from mere disciple of this cult of a band to a more mythological being. Wearing a coat of armor made up of polished mirrors looking like scales and a helmet with a set of spikes around the crown like a sunrise with a dark center and sharp, stylized teeth, Csihar looked like a priest-king for a Viking dragon deity, a manifestation of some deep mystery of Scandinavian mythology. The ensembles looked like something one would expect to see in a Ken Russell or John Boorman film. But in the end, when the music ended, with one final utterance from Csihar, Sunn O))) broke the spell and revealed their faces. Csihar removed his helmet and bowed along with the rest. And thus a magical moment broken still managed not to ruin the mystique of one of metal's most sonically adventurous bands.