As is often the case with Southern Lord‘s limited LP releases, DÃ¸mkirke‘s vinyl-only pressing is so meticulously designed/packaged that it’s essentially an art piece masquerading as two 180-gram slabs of music. Doubly so since it involves Sunn O))), the New York Times–approved duo that churns out confusing–some would even say infuriating–drone/doom compositions you don’t listen to so much as lose yourself in.
In other words, Sunn albums require you to suspend disbelief for a moment, to set aside whatever’s on your mind and commit your very being to whatever unholy racket they happen to be whipping up at the moment. Just don’t bring your personal pineapple express stash into the equation. Our office made that mistake before dropping a needle on side A of DÃ¸mkirke‘s double LP pack–clear platters awash in black and gray swirls–and, well, it didn’t take long for paranoia to set in, making the mantras of Attila Csihar sound like mating calls meant for Satan himself. (Csihar is one of Norway’s reigning black-metal icons, best known for his stints in Mayhem. That’d be the band that lost its vocalist, Dead, to suicide, and its most notorious member, guitarist Euronymous, to murder by the hands of main Burzum main Varg Vikernes.)
Anyway, to understand what we mean about Csihar’s intonations and Sunn’s spooky, kooky vibes, here’s some background: much like the 46-minute “Helio)))sophist” composition on the expanded Oracle EP–a collaboration between the band and Banks Violette– DÃ¸mkirke was written with very specific themes in mind. In this case, the curator of last year’s Borealis Festival asked Sunn to record a subversive live album in Norway’s Bergen Cathedral. According to the event’s curator, Nicholas Mollerhaug, “Our idea behind this concert was to commission a piece of music from Sunn O))) referring to the gothic Gregorian hymns of the late Middle Ages. Hymns that flourished at Bergen Cathedral in its earliest years: the age of the Great Famine and the Black Plague. The Gregorian hymns of this time reflected the despair, the terrors and darkness of the world. Musically the hymns consisted of long slow lines of unison melodies. The unisonity, the dark mood and the slow melodic development are also elements that can be traced back to Sunn O)))’s musical universe.”
One grainy but great video from the proceedings
Indeed they can. That said, Sunn stretches the limits of their decidedly minimal sound on most of these pieces, especially during the 18 engrossing minutes of “Cannon.” While most of this release does its best to sound like a waking nightmare, Side B (or “Side U” if you’re going by the band’s confusing record labels) is dark, yes, but it’s also downright dreamy, from riffs that unfurl like willowy smoke rings to Csihar’s surprisingly subdued whispers and Steve Moore’s (Earth‘s organist) breezy horn stabs.
Again, this is not simple background music. If anything, each song is like a sound installation in your living room, one that’ll unsettle the neighbors for sounding a little too much like a haunted house at times. As a result, you’re gonna need to be in a theatrical mood to fully enjoy it. Or at the very least, grimmer than a guy in greasy corpse paint. Us, we simply like how the snap/crackle/pop of vinyl and drone tones syncs up perfectly with the snake-like hiss of self-titled‘s cappucinno machine.