By Andy O’Connor, special to the American-Statesman
One of the most disappointing things about Levitation’s cancellation was that its Saturday lineup was to have some of its strongest metal representation ever. Legendary Oakland doom band Sleep, Japanese trio Boris, and drone ensemble Sunn O))) were supposed to uproot Carson Creek Ranch on Saturday – so they just decided to raze the Mohawk instead. For Austin metalheads, this was a dream bill if you were able to get in.
A year ago, Sleep headlined ACL Live, a testament to how many local bands try to rip them off. This weekend’s gig was last minute, to say the least, and as a result, it had a looser feel than their last show. Guitarist Matt Pike shuffled and kicked around more than he usually does, almost as if he was performing with his more high-energy group High on Fire. Sleep felt louder, too, and while it was smoothed out at ACL Live, at Mohawk it was a a lot more raw. As they usually do, they mostly stuck to material from their most loved record, “Sleep’s Holy Mountain.” Pike’s opening boogie to “Dragonaut” instantly woke the crowd up, and his poise on “Holy Mountain” was totally confident. With “The Clarity” they got into a jammier mood, and when Pike, bassist Al Cisneros, and drummer Jason Roeder locked into a groove, it became a hail to Tony Iommi’s godlike riffing (Sunn O))) were also selling shirts that said “Praise Iommi”).
People knew Sunn O))) was going to be over-the-top just by the wall of amps and cabinets that stretched both ends of the Mohawk stage. As night fell, the stage was consumed by smoke, and robe-laden guitarists Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, who make up the core of the band, made their case as the loudest band of the night and ripped through one huge chord. A few minutes later, another chord took its place. Sunn O)))’s music is centered on long, heavy drones, much like the earlier works of the band’s main inspiration, Earth. With the billowing smoke and dim lights, Sunn O))) are a gloriously disorienting experience. Those amps were not for show – they live by their credo of “maximum volume yields maximum results.”
Their music does not suggest rock ‘n’ roll tradition, but their stage show is closer to such than you might think just by its sheer ridiculousness. While the group cites La Monte Young, Alice Coltrane and black metal as influences, O’Malley and Anderson would occasionally raise their guitars sky-high like they were trying to be the next Iron Maiden. For their second movement, they brought out Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar, who frequently tours with the group, to unleash a series of pained growls and shrieks, while the two guitarists toned their assault just for a moment. Touring keyboardist Steve Moore provided dreary trombone to further highlight Csihar’s misery. After that, Csihar exited. The band certainly didn’t feel slow when Csihar came out a second time, this time decked out in a costume that resembled a dystopian Statue of Liberty adorned in mirror shards. Lasers would shoot out of his hands, and the crowd, all of a sudden, were desperate to snap it up. Who says music without a drum beat doesn’t make for a lively show? Texas fans have waited years to see them, and they easily stole the night.
Boris’ style is hard to pin down, shifting from album to album and even straying away from metal a few times. They stuck to the heavier end of their sound this time, beginning with long jams that were light on drums. In the middle, they jammed out the Sabbath-meets-MC5 rock they’re most known for, complete with Takeshi Ohtani’s excessive yet totally appropriate double neck bass-guitar combo. Drummer Atsuo Mizuno didn’t sink into the crowd like he normally does, but he still was able to rev them up early in the night. Boris ended with the beautiful “Farewell,” oddly the first song from their heralded “Pink” record. It was like Slowdive through Orange amps, a fitting link between Friday and Saturday nights.