Sound — 7
If you asked me about the least likely musical companions, I would probably laugh and say a pop singer fronting a doom/drone metal band. But this collaboration between pop singer Scott Walker and drone metal band Sunn O))) is no joke. As unlikely as it would seem for a pop singer to join a drone metal band, Scott Walker fits the bill from a logical standpoint. To begin with, he has had a most peculiar career. He was the frontman of a '60s boy band called The Walker Brothers, which had two #1 singles in Britain. Usually, someone like him would either continue to milk the success of the boy band or fall completely out of the musical world altogether. Scott Walker got weird. Through a long solo career and frequent collaborations, Walker became a fully-fledged avant-garde artist, much closer to Sunn O))) than any sort of boy band. Walker's deep, baritone voice has allowed him to tackle dark/ominous musical situations.
Here is where Sunn O))) comes in. This renowned drone metal band, which also has a penchant for collaborations, proves an ideal backing band for Scott Walker. More so than most collaborations or supergroup albums I come across, this album is a true mix of styles. All of the songs "drone" in the traditional sense of the world, however the droning chords are not always the detuned muddle that is characteristic of drone metal bands. In addition, while the album has a negative vibe as a whole, there are moments of levity, something I was not expecting from Sunn O))). The first thirty seconds of the album show how upbeat/melodic the album can be (which isn't much, but still more so than anything else Sunn O))) has done).
Another way the styles of Walker and Sunn O))) mix is in the mode of repetition in the songs. In pop music, sections of songs repeat in a certain order (section A-B-C-A-B-C) whereas in drone metal, oftentimes there are only one or two sections in a song, but each one repeats on itself endlessly (A-A-A-B-B-B). Both structures have strengths and weaknesses but at the very least, they are predictable. Scott Walker and Sunn O))) meet at the middle of this crossroads of song structure to create a sort of fusion, where there are still long, droning sections of songs, however the sections change before repeating themselves (A-A-B-B-A-B). This structure allows for almost catchy riffs and at the same time, there is never a moment when someone would say, "Just move on already."
For Sunn O)))'s side, they provide the expected amount of drone chords and eerie special effects, albeit a bit less sludgy. Unlike many doom/drone bands, Sunn O))) are masters of production. Their purpose at any given point on the album is clear in terms of production; nothing is by accident and there are no muddled messes.
Lyrics — 7
Scott Walker's voice is as unsettling as many of Sunn O)))'s special effects. His voice is relatively clear compared to those of other doom/drone metal vocalists. He sings with neither a high rasp nor a brutal growl. Again, his voice is fairly normal in the grand scheme of things, but for whatever reason, it sounds dissonant, almost terrifying, like a cacophony all on its own. It is not obvious whether he sounds like this purposefully, but he definitely fits with Sunn O)))'s music.
The two bones I have to pick with Walker's vocals are that he is not very articulate (it is hard to understand the lyrics even though he sings slowly) and he shows little range. The problem with that is his voice becomes monotonous and boring over the course of the album, kind of like an endless drone in and of itself. Possibly that was his intention.
The lyrics that are discernable point to the typical "man hates himself/ is insane and is dying on the inside" shtick. However, just because the lyrics are predictable does not lessen their effect. For example, when Walker says, "In vain, I bind another foot" I get goose bumps.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, this album is effective but not incredible. While there is definitely a certain novelty in hearing a singer like Scott Walker collaborate with a band like Sunn O))), it is not interesting enough to sustain a whole career. The album succeeds in meshing the best of the collaborators' styles. The album still allows a drone/doom/sludge type "experience" but at the same time there are no dull moments and there are no sections that are so muddy as to make them unlistenable.
It seems with any Scott Walker or Sunn O))) album you can expect a certain surprise: something odd yet interesting that takes a while to wrap your head around.
My advice: dive in. And maybe you will never want to come out.