Ahh, Sunn O))). Somehow you’ve managed to pull off the improbable, and make dirge-like drone/doom metal trendy. How did you do it? And where does it leave metal? How long before a doom band is on Jools Holland’s show, or worse, Graham Norton’s?
It may seem a far-fetched notion, and yet an avalanche of droney metal bands have followed in Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s wake, whilst the pair can fill London’s Koko with ease. It even seems to have caused something of a schism in the metal community, with more than one black metal fan describing Seattle’s hooded heroes as “pretentious hipster bullshit” to me. But, should the day come that drone/doom metal gets an airing on Radio 1, I’m pretty sure it won’t be Black Boned Angel, and not just because The End represents the final chapter in this particular Campbell Kneale (of Birchville Cat Motel fame) adventure. Black Boned Angel is, to put it mildly, a gnarly beast, and The End is a fittingly fucked-up swansong. Methinks the mass media will be all too happy to let this one slip under the radar. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
‘Part One’ is essentially everything you want to hear from a doom band condensed and then sublimated over 20 minutes. The initial riffage is very much in a Sunn O))) or early Earth vein, hard, sludgy and drenched in distortion, with a similar single-minded dedication to drawing out the guitar’s low end rumble. It’s a weird combination, in a way, of the expansive and the claustrophobic, evoking a vast and beautiful landscape that, for some reason, is populated only by serial killers and ravenous beasts. This primordial soup of feedback and drone is occasionally punctuated by metronomic percussion (which serves only to underline the monolithic nature of the massed ranks of guitar sludge) and a series of vocal interjections, each more barbaric than the last. Kneale sounds like he’s channeling every lost soul from beyond the veil, starting with a raspy guttural snarl that rises and multiplies until it’s become a veritable chorus of deranged Varg Vikerneses circa Hvis lyset tar oss. The pace and atmosphere on ‘Part One’ are gruelling, and Kneale and his compadre James Kirk make zero concessions for ease of listening, instead acting as if they’re servants of Loki throwing back the gates of Hell, laughing hysterically as the assembled ghosts and demons sally forth. A slightly overblown comparison perhaps, but then metal music this determinedly base has a tendency to bring out my inner Julian Cope.
The End is not all sludge riffs and ogre-esque vocals, mind. As the album unfolds, Kneale and Kirk display a keen ear for dynamics, as well as a certain gracefulness that sees them use their subterranean drones as a platform from which to soar, for want of a better word. As ‘Part One’ gathers pace, previously inaudible textures reveal themselves like sunbeams piercing blackened clouds, lifting Black Boned Angel out of pure marshland dirge and into something closer to the likes of Nadja, The Angelic Process or even Jesu. Frenetic polyrhythms break the onslaught of fuzz, an octopus-like smattering of toms that’s redolent of Klaus Schulze on Ash Ra Tempel’s seminal self-titled debut. Only here, there are no trippy acid arpeggios from Manuel Göttsching for the drummer (or drum machine) to play off, but rather a constant one-note riff played by a perverted cousin of Tony Iommi with one foot firmly planted on the feedback pedal.
In contrast, the even longer ‘Part Two’ opens on a wave of angelic synth drone, as if the apocalypse of the previous track were nothing but a heady nightmare. Campbell Kneale is in no mood for relaxation, though, and the cavernous riffs return with a vengeance and an even more single-minded commitment to lingering over each note ad infinitum. By the time the drums and voices have kicked in, Nadja-style, the track has been dragging its beleaguered carcass along for ten minutes and any attempts at standard musical construction is rendered impossible. As a listener, you just have to release yourself and allow the whirlpool of axe worship/mutilation to suck you into its gaping maw and submerge you with distortion, before it dumps you, gasping and laughing hysterically, into a beatific pool of spacey ambience and muted bass rumbles.
After such a double-barrelled assault, the 13-minute closing segment is always going to feel like an afterthought, although I very much doubt it was, such is the excellent poise and compositional sense that Kneale and Kirk display across The End. It’s a fantastic close to a ten-year career, and, for anyone who might lament Black Boned Angel’s demise, just stick this on repeat and let the riffs bite your head off. And then check out Kneale’s “new” project, Our Love Will Destroy The World. As with The End, the agony will be ecstatic.