From Earth tribute band to Earth tribute band with black-metal overtones to Earth tribute band with strings. That was the pre-release buzz surrounding Monoliths & Dimensions, anyway, as fanboys pondered the foretold presence of violinist/arranger Eyvind Kang and various horn players and choruses augmenting the usual amp-worshipping doom duo of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson. The actual music on the new album bears out that assessment, to an extent. Those who favor Sunn 0))) in vintage wall-of-RAARRR mode and those who embraced the buried-alive black-metal screeching may not find much to champion here, but the band manages to crawl its way to a new evolutionary step while evading the worst excesses of the ham-fisted metal trope-cum-trap that "orchestral = classy."
Not that Monoliths & Dimensions is without its ham-fisted excesses. Seventeen-minute opening track "Agartha" launches with a room-filling downtuned roar—note the rich grain, the epic sustain—before marring said minimalist perfection with a half-mumbled, inscrutable intonation from auxiliary vocalist Attila Csihar; the downplayed orchestral touches have negligible effect. "Big Church" on the other hand, adds a female chorus and drops Csihar's vocals into the range of throat singers or chanting Tibetan monks, the latter a much-improved additional texture. By "Hunting and Gathering," the expanded Sunn 0))) orchestra has begun to combine its individual elements into a whole that actually does what was probably intended all along: increase density and mass. Sixteen-minute closing cut "Alice" brings everything full circle as its dusty, deliberate central twang channels the Morricone-esque Earth of today while Kang's slow-dawning horns, reeds, and strings add uncanny subtlety and, yes, real beauty to the Sunn 0))) attack. It's a new day for sure.