I think it was George A. Romero who observed that making people laugh and
frightening them involves the same set of emotions. This is why we keep going to
horror movies. We know that the maniac is behind the bushes and he is going to
maul the pretty girl, but we are going to jump when he appears anyway.
sunn 0))) scare the shit out of me. I know that the band is comprised of Stephen
O'Malley and Greg Anderson, but when they don those robes and cover their faces
with hoods, it adds a supernatural quality to their already bleak music.
Black 1 is their horrific persona fully realized. It is pummeling,
oppressive, and the most advanced black metal statement to date.
On Black 1, sunn 0))) are joined by a who's who of the black metal/noise
underground. John Weise provides eerie kinks and tweaks to accentuate the mood
on some tracks. Oren Ambarchi lends some axe-grinding. Wrest from Leviathan and
Malefic from black metal gods Xasthur add screams and more drones to the toxic
The album begins with the ringing drone of "Sin Nanna." The song has the eerie
quality of entering a doorway to something unknown that has a frightening
prescience in the subconscious. By the end of the first minute, the drone gives
way to intrusive screech fade-ins like those found on Homotopy to Marie by Nurse
with Wound. It is a fair introduction to the destructive black metal that
"It Took the Night to Believe" features a power-chord drone overlapped by a
negative "Flight of the Bumblebee" tap. A low, throaty voice babbles slowly and
incoherently over the track while an echoing scream punctuates the gloom. The
juxtaposition of the vocals is possibly one of the most intriguing statements of
the album. It simultaneously pairs the listener's feeling of hopelessness and
doom when faced with the unanswered questions of life, with their inner notion to
freak out at the obscene possibility that we might all be doomed souls facing an
afterlife of eternal darkness.
"Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" introduces the motif of cemeteries through
a dire scream overcoming a background of John Weise-helmed grating noise and amp
jizz. The noise fades into a guitar drone before giving way to foggy ambient
noise and more wicked screams.
Possibly the only song on the album wholly conforming to the stereotypical sunn 0))) template is "Orthodox Caveman"; but by the time the track comes up, the
listener needs relief from the ghastly atmosphere. The batter of the heavy
chords and the reverberation that ensues sets a lull that breaks up the
intimidating darkness of the album.
The only hope on the album comes with the final track, the sublime "Candlegoat."
Elongated, hopeful synth sounds begin the piece and are soon exterminated by
sunn 0)))'s trademark nasty power-chord drone. The drone shape-shifts and
reaches magical heights of warped sludge tones. Eventually a deep-throated low
moan of "The cemetery lights up again" overlays the doomy drone. A distant,
shimmering crystal noise can be heard in the far background and the song fades
into a supernatural doorway.
The twisted electronics-guitar-organ drone of "Cry for the Weeper" shift
the mood of the album into a post-mortem supernatural state. The song is a black
funeral dirge that begins with a whimper, eventually melting into pure
heavy-chord-drenched speaker assault. "Bathory Erzsebet" ends the album with a
funeral bell drone that fades into a ringing guitar line. The distanced screams
of a madman kick in at about 11 minutes, reinforcing the lingering death threat.
Suddenly, the album flickers out as if it has been sent back to the black void
from whence it came.
By the end of this album, I was, literally, drenched in sweat. I heard a sound
coming from inside of my apartment that was not of this world. I looked outside
to make sure it was not coming from the reverberations of a passing truck. It
wasn't. There was definitely something in my room. I finally traced the sound to
a fan in my room whose blade had come loose, but not before I prayed to whatever
God is up there to forgive me for taking multiple glimpses into the darkness.
Fear, as characterized by Maslow and Jung, is a peak experience. It overtakes a
person's body and blurs the lines between reality and the subconscious
manifesting itself in the material world. It is very rare that an album triggers
a peak experience. Usually, an album that puts a smile on your face by relating
to your emotions is considered successful. However, when an album overtakes your body,
as it did mine, and appeals to the hierarchy of emotional response, that album
is eternal—a classic if you will. It would not be far-fetched to consider Black
1 a classic album sent down by the thunder gods.
The editors of Rolling Stone and Nick Hornby once said that
"Frankie Teardrop" by Suicide is one of the scariest recordings of all time. I'm willing to bet that those people
couldn't even imagine the hair-curling menace of Black 1, an album so
soul-crushingly frightening that you'll want to keep the holy water near.
1. Sin Nanna
2. It Took the Night to Believe
3. Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)
4. Orthodox Caveman
6. Cry For the Weeper
7. Bathory Erzsebet