Saturday, January 28, 2023

Sunn O))) meets Earth: Experimental drone metal band Sunn O))) goes underground for 4/20 show at The Caverns


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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Story by Allison Borrell / Contributing Writer

Experimental drone metal legends Sunn O))) had a night to themselves at The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee, Saturday night.

Guitarist David “Papa M” Pajo, was originally set to be the night’s opener, but, due to being hospitalized in Chicago over the weekend, he was unable to make it. As a result, Sunn O))) became the night’s sole focus.

The band hit the stage a little before 8 p.m., ominously shrouded in black hooded robes, with fog from the fog machine becoming so dense you could barely see the people around you, let alone the members on stage.

But Sunn O))) is such a striking departure from what a concert usually is that not being able to see the band didn’t matter. It’s an experience, and it’s all about the sound.

Sunn O))) is best known for their intense, droning guitar work and their massively loud sound. They’re not the kind of band you dance around and bob your head to. In fact, they don’t make the kind of music you move around to at all. Once the set started, the crowd fell silent and stood rooted in place, eyes either closed or lifted toward the cave’s rocky ceiling, simply letting the immense noise coming from the wall of amps hit their bodies and wash over them.

When I say Sunn O))) is loud, I don’t mean the kind of loud that makes you jump or gives you a headache. It’s the kind of loud that makes you feel like your insides are being rearranged by the sheer force of the reverberations. It makes the threads of your clothes buzz against your skin and the almost-useless earplugs vibrate within your ears. Their sound was so intense, I could feel the wisps of hair at my hairline fluttering against my forehead.

When it comes to a Sunn O))) show, a setlist is practically meaningless; it’s nearly impossible to know where one song ends and another begins. Between founding members Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson annihilating the crowd with their heavy guitars, there wasn’t much else to hear beside a bit of keyboard and the powerful trombone that overtook the room near the middle of their set.

Some of their tours have included Attila Csihar, a Hungarian extreme metal vocalist best known for his work with Sunn O))) and Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, but he wasn’t present on this run.

Some might find the idea of listening to heavily distorted guitars for an hour and a half to be mind-numbing, but you become so engulfed by the sound, so entranced by the sheer intensity of it, that you can barely feel the time passing you by. And for all of that to be experienced within a cave inside the Earth, with such an ominous atmosphere that you feel like you’re standing right at the gates of hell, it’s impossible to feel bored.

As the show ended and I walked out from the cave into the cool, night air, I felt as if the fierceness I had just endured had rid my body of all its toxins. Despite feeling the heaviness of their loud performance, I felt lighter afterward. Like I had just experienced the most metal sound therapy there ever was.

Sunn O)))’s newest album, “Life Metal,” is now available to order from the Sunn O))) official website, their Bandcamp and Southern Lord Recordings. It will be available everywhere on April 26.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Mamie Lomax, email

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