Live Review: Sunn O))), Magma

16 March 2016 | 3:19 pm | Will Oakeshott

"This was not a musical concert, this was a cinematic experience."

The final weekend of Adelaide Fringe festival and the second day of the famed WOMAD festival were two rather prestigious events that could have easily, if sadly, overshadowed anything else happening in Adelaide. Fortunately the 'shadows' are something Sunn O))) whole-heartedly embrace, and have achieved global admiration from. The supporting outfit Magma were equally esteemed and, after decades of service to the musical world, visiting Australia for the first time. Clearly whatever else was happening, this was a show that wouldn't be forgotten.

As aforementioned, this was French outfit Magma's first visit and after 47 years of musical output, it was a tremendous honour to have the eight-piece perform as part of the Adelaide Festival. They've been described as a 'progressive rock band', which is an acceptable classification but extremely narrow depiction of the ensemble. The performance was almost like an opera, something much more felt than observed. Magma hypnotised their listeners, transporting them with a continual orchestral undertaking, which had a uniquely beautiful dreariness. While three vocalists interchanged and collaborated on different dimensions in astonishing harmony, the remaining members played their roles with the perfect unison of cogs in a well oiled machine and the whole act transitioned flawlessly from a near-melancholic mellow art noise to jazz-fuelled uplifting rock. Closing with Kobaia, the first song ever crafted by the main composer and drummer Christian Vander over four decades ago, it was a perfect ending to an incredible introduction for Magma to Australia and it felt as if a light had emerged from the darkness of this timeless theatre upon the conclusion of their set.

As the bustling crowd returned, that illumination vanished and was overtaken by fog — this was of course the initiation of drone specialist Sunn O)))'s set. There was gentle easing into the murkiness, gloom became the concept and it was accentuated further by an eerie silence, a calm before the storm. A tidal wave of noise then crashed over each attendee in the room, the dim lights slowly revealed unrecognisable cloaked figures with their fists raised in the air representing the beginning of their ritual. It was fascinating, magnificently bleak and almost frightening. A Sunn O))) performance is best viewed as a ceremony, conducted by vocalist Attila Csihar in the role of a preacher or lecturer of dark arts with the backing of a thunderstorm. A low-key earthquake was created, rumbling the walls and floor, without intermission, just a constant near-religious experience in an avant-garde atmosphere. The first unhindered view of some of the band came when Csihar changed outfits, morphing into a modern robotic Statue Of Liberty-esque character with a mirror/armour suit that blasted laser effects. It was simply entrancing and the show built to a deafening climax concluding with the inevitable uproar of the most-likely hearing-impaired audience.

This was not a musical concert, this was a cinematic experience and Adelaide Festival we are forever in your gratitude for it. Keep up the amazing work.

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