Asphyxiation is about as metal as it gets. British death metal band Unfathomable Ruination shocked London crowds this summer when they locked themselves in a hot metal box and performed until they completely ran out of air. If a hardcore Houdini had helped Pink Floyd build their Wall, it might have looked something like this.
The venue/art installation/torture chamber was sponsored, along with various other sculptures, by some of the insurance and property companies in the area. Entitled “Metal in a Box,” the dark, mysterious structure was a standout piece in London’s Sculpture in the City exhibit. Ironically, the cube was created to challenge the traditional corporate workspaces of its very sponsors, symbolizing the cubicle-filled offices that pack the commercial skyscrapers throughout London.
“With corporate architecture, you don’t really see what is going on inside,” explains João Onofre, the visual artist behind the big scary box. “The same happens here in the work. You see it, but then you don’t see it when the performance starts.”
In the name of art and metal, the five-man band performed blindly for an audience that was unable to hear or see them, as the sun beat down and their oxygen supply vanished. People passing by on their way out of work were repeatedly drawn to the sculpture when they noticed muffled sounds and heavy vibrations around it. The curious onlookers could only press their ears against the box to identify the source of the commotion, as the chamber was also soundproofed. The only time they saw the band was before and after each set. Many were shocked to see them emerge from the sweltering cube, usually gasping for air and pouring sweat. Members of Unfathomable Ruination stated that it was extremely loud and hot inside the installation. But that’s the last thing they were focused on.
The length of the show depended entirely upon how long they could make it without suffocating. The band claims that they made it fourteen minutes in the first set before running out of air, and later topped it with a nineteen-minute performance. “These are extreme conditions and we play extreme music, so that’s kind of the connection,” they explained.
Metal in a Box raises a lot of interesting points about the metaphorical distance between musicians and audiences, and the radical things people are willing to do in the name of art or music. But I’ll just leave it at that so I can resist the urge to describe it as “thinking outside of the box,” or “breathtaking.”