I've been very unkind to Sunn 0))) in the past. Few bands have disappointed me over as long a period of time as Sunn 0))); my interest in them as a worthwhile unit has waned with each new release since about 2002. That said, i still buy almost everything they release, because at one time they were so fucking amazing that avoiding them seemed the equivalent to turning my back on everything i loved about extreme music. There are still those nights when i'll pull out "The Grimmrobe Demos" and zone out to the nearest nowhere, perfectly happy to drown myself in the sound of tar and nihilism, but that's about it. Everything else is faded, tarnished, a nail in the coffin. The last solid effort was "White 1"; everything that came after was a deeper shade of blushing red. Not even the black metal posturing (as well as the cornucopia of "kult" guest stars) of "Black 1" could re-establish Sunn 0))) with me: the project at this point is essentially dead. Stephen O'Malley is doing far more interesting stuff on his own or with various collaborators, and Greg Anderson could be doing far more interesting stuff if he'd just get back to it (seriously-start a new band...or better yet, reunite Engine Kid.) So what else is there? What can possibly reinvent Sunn 0)))'s sound from the pool of stagnancy? Remixes.
Originally issued as the bonus album to the Japanese version of Sunn 0)))'s sophomore album "00 Void," "The Iron Soul of Nothing" here gets the majestic double LP reissue treatment via Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic Organ imprint (the actual CD is being reissued by Southern Lord, and i'd just like to wonder if anyone remembers when Sunn 0))) were with Hydrahead's noise subsidiary-that's the version of "00 Void" that i have, and i guess it's pretty rare) and takes its place as a rightful piece of the Sunn 0))) art metal legacy. Nurse With Wound have taken the master tapes and utterly transformed the record, turning in a vicious slab of distraught disorientationism that both deconstructs and augments the source material. The rework is a masterful exploration of what is at its heart a ridiculously simple sound-massive guitars roaring into infinity-turned totally inside out to arrive at four pieces that are disquieting, nerve-wracking, and as sonically dense as their forebears.
Virtually every identifiable characteristic of "00 Void" has been cast away by Nurse With wound, who have instead opted for a sound far closer to hushed folk via strained industrialism. "The Iron Sould of Nothing" is still very much a drone record, but it's drone in the way Nordvargr is drone, Burning Star Core. The tension is taken to a near unbearable extreme, and the resultant atmosphere becomes one of severe unease and excruciating anxiety. "Ra at Dawn, parts 1 and 2" are radical conceptualizations of the orginal's "Ra at Dusk," trading all of its sloughing, sludged-out drunken fury for something far more intellectualized and searching. Tones are stretched to a breaking point, high-end scree stepping in for low-end osmosis, with an overall feel of drugged out narcolepsy replacing the overbearing Dylan Carlson style military-march of the original. I'm hard pressed to even identify a distorted guitar on "The Iron Soul Nothing"; to be able to cut away such a defining element of the the source material and still emerge with a record of substance and curiousity is testament to Nurse With Wound's handle on this shit.
Nurse With Wound's penultimate statement here is "Ash on the Trees (The Sudden Ebb of a Diatribe)", a frightening, pitched-shifted deviation from "NN 0)))" that bear zero resemblance to its parent track, becoming one of the most hyper-stylized pieces of music to hit the turntables this year. Drone becomes folk by way of judicious post-fuckery; chromaticism becomes melodicism by the deft hands of sirs Stapleton and Potter. Maniacal, processed voices lead a march to agony via jester-like revery and disassociative obstinancy; the brittle guitar lines evoke mental collapse and a troubling break with reality. This is the stuff of dreams transmuted to simple horror; wings of black and clouds of ochre threatening down on you from above. The liberties taken here speak to Nurse With Wound's mastery of form and mood; the only required validation is how fucking slimy and weirded out you feel after listening to "Ash on the Trees (The Sudden Ebb of a Diatribe)."
To say this record is a surprise would be minimizing it. This is as vital a piece of the Sunn 0))) puzzle as has ever surfaced; it relegates the last five years of this band's output to the "worthless" pile. I know a lot of people will probably react disfavorably to my assessment of the band (i took a lot of shit for not liking "Monoliths and Dimensions") but i would be floored by anyone that could listen to "The Iron Soul of Nothing" and not see it as a tremendous leap beyond the formulaic efforts that have bogged Sunn 0))) down since "White 1." If it takes the interference of individuals like Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter to elevate the band to this point, then draft them in and let them rework the entire catalogue. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but it's not a bad idea. The influx of underground metal figures that have worked with Sunn 0))) over the last few records have added little to nothing to the band's progression; it's nice to see Attila Csihar working again, but he's not really adding anything to the equation. The idea is drone. It needs imagination to really carry it out there. O'Malley and Anderson have exhausted theirs as far as Sunn 0))) is concerned as a recording entity; the power and intensity now lies in the reworking of the materials they've provided. "The Iron Soul of Nothing" is a masterful beginning. As always with O'Malley, the design here is stunning. The actual artwork is by Timo Ketola, and the record itself is gorgeous. Collectors beware.