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Review: Sunn O))) and Magma

Adelaide Festival

Dual headliners Magma and Sunn O))) took us on a journey all the way from an Elven forest to the land of Mordor at this closing-night Adelaide Festival concert.

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Sunn O))) – whose live shows, rather ironically, feel more like the time-crush of a black hole – offer a great contrast to Magma’s frenetic energy.

Founded by Stephen O’Malley (Thorr’s Hammer, Burning Witch) and Greg Anderson (Goatsnake), Sunn O))) took their name from Sunn-brand amplifiers, adopting the radiating O))) from their logo.

They were inspired to form by American drone doom pioneers Earth, whom they played with on the 2005 “‘Angel Coma Tour” which I witnessed in London. My brother-in-Doom, “The Senator”, had advised the purchase of the Sunn O))) shirt over the Earth one, on account of it bearing “a dead goat” in shimmering silver on the front. (Said shirt has endured like the spirit of Sauron.)

French band Magma, which formed in 1969, seems to contain within its complex sound a conscious level of energetic prog-rock and a subconscious layer of ruminating mantra that runs contradictory to it.

This glowing eight-piece melting pot of creativity is centred around composer/drummer Christian Vander and comprises vibraphone, Fender Rhodes piano, three vocalists, guitar and bass. Their work is extremely conceptual, with their lyrics in the language of a new planet, “Kobaïa”, journeyed to by refugees from Earth.

Magma’s premise is epic and operatic, yet they seem unpretentious and studiously involved in their warm, mysterious methamphetamine opera.

“Kobaïa” (which sounded a little like Kumbaya when announced), the final track of their set at the Thebby, allowed them to really let loose. The first-ever Magma composition closed out the first-ever Magma performance in Australia.

After an intermission, fog filled the stage and seeped into the theatre’s “each last ditch and combe” (to borrow from the lyrics of Sunn O))’s “My Wall Ode”). Rear lighting cast the towering amplifier stacks into standing stones while band members wandered on stage as Druids in their “Grimmrobes”, silhouetted among electric megaliths or as ring-wraiths from The Lord of the Rings, helmed by the Witch-King of Angmar (Attila Csihar of Hungary, vocals).

Csihar’s costume change saw him emerge for the final quarter as a black-metal spiked Lady Liberty with magickal UV beams emanating from his hands. The four cloaked figures behind him (O’Malley and Anderson on guitar; Tos Nieuwenhuizen, Moog synth, and Steve Moore, Fender Rhodes, trombone) passed a bottle of ritual wine while unified in an epic sonic prayer of “the raising of the hand”. A practise preserved from ancient Babylon by the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, coming down through the ages to strike out a deluge of detuned guitar chords. It had “mythic resonance”, in the phraseology of William S. Burroughs.

After moving from the very front to the back of the room to gain perspective on the sound, there was a sustained moment when I visualised the onslaught as a vinyl pressing of Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus” being used by a tortoise as a treadmill hooked up to 10,000 stereo systems, a persistent slow motion plod that stretched out the blackened chords and mulched the rhythm section into grinding sub-bass. This was a “Black Yoga” of body stretching and tingling; sonic hot coals scorched the feet and aural swords were lodged into the flesh of an audience of unbeknownst Yogis and Fakirs of doom.

As a whole it was a classic Sunn O))) performance with more dynamic interplay compared with previous shows. It didn’t stand out wildly as it might have, given that sub-bass heavy shows have become a regular feature at Adelaide Festival, but one must note that these Doom Lords had a heavy hand in spreading this practise over the last decade.

Sunn O))) and Magma performed one show only at the Thebarton Theatre on the closing night of the 2016 Adelaide Festival.

 

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