Review: Sunn O))) and Magma at Thebarton Theatre

The pairing of French avant-rock collective Magma and drone metal virtuosos Sunn O))) made for an electrifying live music experience at the Thebarton Theatre on the evening of Saturday, March 12.

In their first Australian appearance, Magma took to the stage for an intoxicating hour-and-half set that ebbed and flowed seamlessly between stripped-back vocals to explosive full-band jams, showcasing the virtuosity of each member’s musicianship. Flanked by a xylophonist and Rhodes keyboard player, drummer and vocalist Christian Vander was the thumping driving force in the band’s dynamic stage presence. The group pulled heavily from their 1970s material, delivering a strong prog-rock performance that was as entrancing as it was energetic. The collective ended their set on a high note with the lively ‘Kobaïa’, title track from their first album Magma/Kobaïa, which flaunted the hypnotic vocals of Stella Vander accompanied by two other singers. Rather than using English lyrics, each song made use of Magma’s self-invented language, Kobaïan, in frenetic phrases and layered harmonies that made the performance an experience that can only be likened to something of an alien rock orchestra. The set was bizarre, heady, and absolutely spellbinding. In preparation for Sunn O)))’s appearance onstage, the auditorium was filled with an incredible amount of smoke. By the time four of the band’s members took to the stage clad in black hooded robes, the venue was entirely shrouded in fog and illuminated only by the red glow of the stage. Surrounded by towering stacks of amplifiers, the four-piece created a thunderous soundscape for the duration of their performance that was physically tangible throughout the venue – the droning frequencies reverberated off of walls and pounded through the bodies of punters who were undoubtedly glad that earplugs were offered upon entry to the venue. After half an hour of building upon the initial guitar frequencies, esteemed Hungarian black metal vocalist Attila Csihar took to the stage and captivated the audience with his signature growling vocals. At this point, the show started to feel like some sort of transcendental ritual – Csihar would raise his arms as his low vibrato resonated above the pervasive hum of the guitars, and the crowd was absolutely transfixed. The music, distinctly lacking a beat, thrummed throughout the crowd who swayed lethargically but remained fully attentive and entirely immersed. The performance culminated when Csihar left the stage to emerge once more, donning a spiky headpiece and a cloak adorned with mirror shards. He writhed, howled and wailed as the lights caught his costume and the humming got louder still. The band finally concluded the one-and-a-half hour set with a slow-motion diminuendo that transformed into silence, leaving audience members awestruck and contemplative as they left the venue. Sunn O))) and Magma played at the Thebarton Theatre on Saturday, 12 March as a part of Adelaide Festival.

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