In the bunkerlike sanctuary of the Rothko Chapel in Houston hang 14 enormous canvases painted almost totally black. Every group of visitors seems to include one guy who can't resist saying he could've painted them himself--the same sort of philistine, I'm sure, who thinks he could duplicate SUNN 0)))'s music by leaning a few guitars against some big honkin' amps and occasionally kicking something. But people with eyes and ears know better: if you want to commune with the infinite in world-class nondenominational style, you go to Rothko, and if you want guys in druid robes to pound you into jelly with doom-metal riffs as huge and ponderous as aircraft carriers, you go to Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson. (Though O'Malley employs a similar vocabulary in Khanate, that band's approach--enervating strings of unpredictable impacts--makes the ebb and flow of Sunn 0)))'s colossal drone seem almost narcotizing by comparison.) On last year's Black One (Southern Lord) the core duo is joined by guitarist and percussionist Oren Ambarchi, noise artist John Wiese, and guest vocalists Wrest and Malefic, both west-coast black-metal heavies. The percussion--sepulchral knocking, frantic rustling and scraping--is as insidious as an insect infestation, and the shrieking, thrumming electronics sharpen the edges of the band's massive, evil throb. But this music is a bodily experience first and an aesthetic one second, and listening to it on disc only gets you halfway there. A friend who saw Sunn 0))) at the Bottle a few years back confessed that he'd gone fetal on the floor behind the sound booth in an attempt to escape the noise and still felt like he was about to shit himself the whole time. It might help to think of this set as a massage to purge the toxins from your soft tissues--the headache means it's working. On this tour O'Malley and Anderson will play guitars and Moogs, former Melvin Mark Deutrom will play bass, and Atsuo Mizuno, the drummer from openers Boris, will add vocals and gong; Ambarchi is part of the road lineup too, but tonight he's playing only an early in-store alone (see above).
The gospel of BORIS reached my ears a little late--the first I heard of this neutron-heavy Japanese trio was the 2003 recording Feedbacker, released last year by the Belgian label Conspiracy. A mostly instrumental five-part suite, it opens with almost ten minutes of monstrously distorted slow-motion chords woven into glassy curtains of feedback, and its center of gravity is a 20-minute psych-rock epic that starts desolate and majestic, then cranks up into a ragged, churning gallop topped with a razor-wire tangle of amplifier scree; after disintegrating into ten more minutes of congested subsonic pulses, shrieking cymbal, and drill-bit guitar, it fades into an almost delicate coda. Then just this month Southern Lord put out Pink, its fourth Boris release, and if anyone's listening to my prayers, the band will play it top to bottom in its Chicago debut. Nimble and brutal, Pink compresses the devastating power of Feedbacker's sprawling tracks into focused vortices of total annihilation--battering-ram doom metal, stomping Jurassic psych rock, bunker-busting thermonuclear boogie. Boiling, spattering guitar thunders over unhinged drumming in a biblical torrent, sometimes leaping skyward in brilliant sweeping scythelike blades or armor-piercing incendiary bursts--and soaring over it all are supercatchy vocal melodies that hang somewhere between deep-space lonely and mountaintop triumphant. How awesome is this record? Let's just say I'm gonna be mighty disappointed if these people aren't literally shooting fire from their bodies.
Sunn 0))) headlines, Boris plays second, and Kevin Drumm opens. Fri 5/26, 8:30 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12 in advance, $14 at the door. All ages.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jenn Garrett.