Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, music snobs still have a hard time viewing heavy metal as a musical form worthy of the label, "art." Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have fought that notion throughout their careers. With the announcement of the duo's main band Sunn O))) releasing its first new record since 2008's 'Monoliths and Demensions (except for the 2014 'Soused' that saw the band collaborate with legendary UK singer Scott Walker), I have decided to use this Autre Playlist to pay homage to the duo's work as well as their record label, Southern Lord.
Anderson and O'Malley are artists that happen to work in heavy metal, but are not pretentious enough to claim that they are elevating heavy music. Instead, they see metal as one of the mediums that they work in. Before Sunn O))), both men were in the more traditional doom metal band Thorr's Hammer. They got artier and arguably more extreme with the blackened doom metal band Burning Witch. The most conceptual and long-lasting of their projects however has certainly been Sunn O))) (named after their amplifier of choice). Heavily influenced by Earth's second album '2,' Sunn 0))) has consistently utilized loud droning guitars swirling in and out of one another to dizzy the listener into a transcendental lull. It is experimental and psychedelic, but most certainly metal. O'Malley is also an extremely talented artist and designer (see his work on his website, ideologic.org), and that shows in Sunn O))))'s stage performances; the band, draped in black robes, surrounds themselves with mist and darkness creating something of a ritualistic seance. It is thrilling, and even though I don't listen to heavy music like I used to, I have been consistently fascinated with the band for over a decade.
Though Anderson and O'Malley started Southern Lord in 2008 to release their own music, it quickly became one of the most important labels in underground metal. Southern Lord has helped introduce some of the most interesting metal acts of the last few decades to the world. Khanate, a noise doom band founded by Anderson and god screamer vocalist Alan Dubin, set the pace for similarly terrifying bands like Gnaw and (funnily enough) Gnaw their Tongues. Wolves in the Throne Room were one of the first bands to draw connections between black metal and shoegaze, crossing over to Pitchfork-approved success. Black Breath, one of today's most successful crossover bands, put their early records out on SL, as well.
O'Malley and Anderson have also used Southern Lord to release music by the people that influenced them. Earth (side note: Earth's front man Dylan Carlson was Kurt Cobain's best friend) found a re-birth on Southern Lord, ditching the drone metal sound for a western-inflected psychedelia that serves as the perfect soundtrack to reading Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian.' Striborg, a mysterious one-man black metal band, found wider success due to his association with the label. Even very traditional metal bands including Saint Vitus and Pentagram have released music via the imprint.
Most recently, Southern Lord has become a coveted label for crust punk and hardcore bands. The only unifying theme in the label's world is that it be good and heavy, at least according to the label's honored leaders.
Now bring on the new Sunn O))) record.