Sunn O))) – “Kannon” (2015)

How had I never heard of Sunn O))) until just recently?  These guys have been putting out records for 15 years, and their newest release Kannon has been one of the most hotly discussed RSD Black Friday titles on some of the online forums I frequent – though not entirely because of the music (more on that in a minute).  I’ve seen Kannon show up on the Facebook “Now Playing” group a bunch of times as well, and the general consensus is that people are digging it.

I wasn’t planning on going out for Record Store Day Black Friday, but then Holly and I figured what the hell – we’ll pop over to Easy Street in West Seattle later in the morning after the rush is over, then go get some lunch.  I picked up the main title I was interested in, Revolutionaries Sounds Vol. 2, and from there I spent some time flipping through everything that was available (or at least everything that was left…).  That’s where I ran across Kannon.  And I won’t lie – it was the cover that made me stop and go back to it, both the interesting image on the front and the kanji, as I thought perhaps this was a Japanese band.  The back cover clarified things a bit, with the three band members in black monk robes posing in front of some creepy looking tapestries, with one of them throwing the horns.  This was getting interesting.  A quick online search on my phone sealed the deal, and I walked out with the only copy still in the bins.

TANGENT ALERT!  How the hell did we ever buy music back in the day, before we all had smart phones?  Of course I know the answer to this, because that’s how I shopped for records for most of my life.  But damn, it’s easy to forget what a shot-in-the-dark so much of it was.  Stores that sold new stuff didn’t even have listening stations, so when it came to finding a random, interesting looking title like this you were kind of lost if no one working at the store knew about it.  Even if you wanted to research it, how the hell would you?  We didn’t have the internet.  It’s not like there was a repository of information you could refer to in order to find out what a band was all about.  I know I rolled the rock ‘n’ roll dice on more than one occasion, sometimes winning, sometimes rolling craps.

sunno)))kannon

It turns out that Kannon got all kinds of limited edition treatments on vinyl for its release – three different colored versions that included a 7″ flexi, which I believe were for pre-orders; a clear version; a glow-in-the-dark(!) version; a white RSD version; and a black “regular” version.  That’s a lot of different versions, man.  The drama appears to be tied to the RSD white pressing, a limited release of 2,000 copies specifically for RSD Black Friday, which I believe was technically hitting the shelves just prior to the regular release of the album.  Turns out a bunch of folks who bought their copy on Black Friday expecting a limited edition white copy got a regular edition black copy instead, which would of course be a big bummer and potentially something that will “hurt” the value of a person’s copy over time, since the white will remain limited while the black will continue to be pressed on demand.  Fortunately for yours truly, I got one of the white copies.  While I would have bought it regardless, I’m glad I was one of the lucky ones.

Stylistically Kannon is some seriously drone-y doom metal.  It’s slow and heavy and sludgy, with religious overtones emphasized by vocals that sound like Gregorian chanting.  The whole thing seems like it would be right at home in a massive, old, European cathedral.  At 34 minutes it’s about a normal album length (maybe a tad short), but that music is spread over only three songs, the shortest of which (“Kannon 2”) runs over nine minutes.  The length of these songs give them time to meander and develop, while also giving the listener the ability to get lost and wallow in them.

The liner notes are extensive, filling up an entire panel inside the gatefold jacket.  They are written by controversial performance artist Aliza Shvarts, who not only provides us with background on the subject matter of Kannon, that of the goddess of mercy, but also provides her own in depth analysis of the album’s three songs (complete with footnotes).  It’s an unusual album on many fronts, but perhaps most notably by this in depth sonic review, which is the kind of thing usually reserved for re-issues or albums of older, previously unreleased material.  For a band to devote so much space to providing a non band member’s perceptions of their brand new music is highly unusual and certainly shows that they were very thematically focused when creating this album, something that could easily get lost if they didn’t provide the listener with some background.  It adds layers to what is already a highly layered composition and will be food for thought the next time I listen to Kannon.

Kannon is undoubtedly one of those albums that will require repeated listenings in order to fully access and appreciate it.  If you’re interested in checking some of it out for yourself, it’s posted on the Sunn O))) Bandcamp page HERE.  I’m going to need to keep this one out and in the rotation for a bit, because I think it’s going to reward however much effort I put into it.

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