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SUNN O))) live in Dublin review: drone kings deliver part pummelling rollercoaster ride, part spiritual awakening

Sunn O))) are sonic sorcerers and their National Concert Hall gig starts loudly, ends loudly, and the bit in the middle is louder still

Sunn O)))

National Concert Hall, Dublin


The history of musicians who perform while dressed like members of a cult is short and undignified, but such rules do not apply to the Sunn O))) duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson. Wearing menacing cowls and wielding their guitars like sacred artefacts, these “drone metal” boys in their hoods are sonic sorcerers whose party piece is music of mind-blowing loudness and magnitude.

As this remarkable concert begins, a dozen vintage amplifiers loom amid the dry ice that billows across the stage. In the inky gloom, the accoutrements are arranged to resemble a miniature Stonehenge – or the ominous monoliths from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Ominous” and “monolithic” are words that likewise apply to O’Malley and Anderson and their howling, crepuscular sound (which takes up the mantle from 1990s distortion pioneers Earth). Named after the beloved Sunn amplifier brand – and pronounced “Sun” – the Seattle two-piece nominally exists within the genre of heavy metal. Yet, to describe them as a metal band is a bit like saying Jaws is a fish who snacks between meals. True, but missing the point slightly. Their currency is volume, their big idea that music cranked to extremes is not an aesthetic experience but a physical one.


Sunn O))) compositions come at you like glaciers on fast forward, their Godzilla-like quality accentuated by menacing song titles such as CandleGoat and Rxanlord. Vast gusts of sound billow and swirl, the feeling of accelerating into a supernova accentuated by haunting still lighting.

The vibe is fantastical throughout the evening. There is a sense of hanging with two Dungeons and Dragons players who have taken their obsession with total immersion slightly too far.

Their hooded outfits recall the friars in Monty Python and the Holy Grail thwacking themselves in the face with planks. In 2020, Anderson, meanwhile, confirmed his nerd credentials by working with the creators of the Mörk Borg role-playing game – a sort of death metal D&D – on an album, Putrescence Regnant, that doubled as a fantasy tabletop adventure.

The impression of going straight to Mordor and staring Sauron in the eye is present throughout a sold-out performance. Pipers at the gates of doom, O’Malley and Anderson conjure billowing swathes of chaos without ever breaking character. It starts loudly, ends loudly, and the bit in the middle is louder still.

As the volume finally diminishes and the dry ice clears, the duo step forward, acknowledging the crowd. Applause rings out. But the response of many in the audience will not be gratitude so much as awe at what they’ve witnessed and astonishment that they’ve made it through a show that is part pummelling rollercoaster ride to the extremes of sound, part spiritual awakening.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics