Words and Photos by Andrew Parks
The Show: Sunn O))) & Boris present Altar, with Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter and BXI @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple, 9.7.10
The Set In a Few Sentences: “Sorry, but we blew two-thirds of the power in the building with that last riff,” said Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley, “So it’s going to take us a few minutes to figure this shit out. Go get a beer or something.”
Grabbing a beer and a breather would be fine in most cases, but last night’s Masonic Temple bill wasn’t a simple show. It was a rarefied ritual featuring the blackened musique concrete compositions of Altar, a one-off LP featuring Sunn, Boris, and such special guests as bassist Joe Preston (ex-Melvins, Harvey Milk) and the sorely-overlooked alt-country singer Jesse Sykes.
With that in mind, the performance’s success had as much to do with its minor-keyed music as it did with maintaining a mood of soul-searching darkness and abject dread. A sonic spell if you will, albeit a short-lived one, as the second song–an extended, patience-testing take on the upright bass/bowed cymbal/gong duet “N.L.T.”–suddenly stopped and O’Malley told us we’d have to wait “10 minutes” for his amp-singeing big band to get their Marshall stacks turned back on.
Ten minutes turned into 30, but the group quickly regained their footing with swift, aggressive bursts of sludge and the wildly expressive beats of Boris drummer Atsuo “Fanganalsatan” Mizuno. Faithful, shadow-chased renditions of “Fried Eagle Mind,” “Akuma No Kuma” and “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)” followed in its wake, sans stage lights but draped in the occasional fog machine formation.
While things weren’t as melodramatic as they could have been–blame the long gap between the beginning and the end of the Altar set–we’ll take the boundary-pushing soundscapes of metal’s high priests (and priestesses) over a typical indie rock tour any night.
And a Letter Grade: B+