Sunn O))) and Ulver: Terrestrials – album review
Sunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials (Southern Lord)
CD / Vinyl / DL
Due Out 3rd Feb 2014
We’ve been eagerly anticipating this one for a long time now – ever since word of its release first came our way last year in fact. On Thursday we finally got our hands on this tightly guarded promo and now, for Louder Than War, Dom Walsh gives us his thoughts on the new album by Sunn O))) and Ulver, aka “two of the most exciting bands on the planet”.
Sunn O))) can stake a rightful claim to being one of the most important metal bands of our time. Ever since they emerged out of Seattle in 1996 their releases and live shows have become the stuff of legend. They are both prolific and thought provoking in everything they do. Norway’s Ulver have moved from black metal merchants to chamber music composers extraordinaire in their storied career. They themselves have pushed their own boundaries as they sought to innovate and create.
This release was originally recorded in one night in 2008 as the bands created three live improvisation pieces. Over the next few years, Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley chipped away at the improvisations in between Sunn O)))’s other work and 2014 now sees the release of one of the most hotly anticipated collaborations between two colossal bands.
The first of three compositions, Let There Be Light, shimmers gracefully through its opening sections. Intensity grows throughout the composition as the drone gets more concentrated with whispering brass that takes centre stage. As this builds, a drumbeat that rumbles and rolls for the final three minutes of the piece turns what started out as a graceful affair to an entirely unnerving place, like an uncomfortable violent scene from a film; each crash of the cymbals feels like the victim taking the next punch. An odd emotion for a composition with such a name, but then again, this isn’t a conventional collaboration between two conventional bands.
The second of the two compositions on the release is Western Horn. Immediately, the opening is far more sinister than its predecessor. The deeper tones of the austere bass are far more integral to the piece, as the spikes of feedback become more piercing and prominent. The whole composition builds an undeniably nervous tension that feels as if you are suspended in mid air and no one can hear or see you. A few picked guitar notes at the end offer some consolation of leaning towards a happy ending. Western Horn is a masterful piece of musical anxiety.
Eternal Return is the final composition on the release. If Western Horn sowed more of a Sunn O))) influence, this piece is by far the one that you could most associate with Ulver. The dawdling pace is moved along by a glistening lounge style organ, together with more whispered horns. The bass again rumbles underneath to keep the edgy atmosphere rife – you wouldn’t want to feel too comfortable would you? The mid point of the composition sees the first vocals of the release, and the first semblance of a conventional song. The vocals are whispered in the most part but they begin to soar more and more as they progress. Backed by haunting piano chords that take the dawdle to a meander, the vocals implode with a single crash and more despair as more menacing crashes and menacing feedback take the composition to its close and the listener back to reality.
Whilst not being a follow-up to Sunn O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions or Ulver’s fantastic chamber music release; Messe I.X-VI-X, Terrestrials is a must hear release from two of the most exciting bands on the planet. Split releases are very common and sometimes the work of each artist can be lost and become undistinguishable. Terrestrials does not have that problem; each bands influence in different parts of the three compositions can be picked out. Marrying these two behemoths of their trade is quite simply superb. For more information about the release, of which there is plenty, go to the shared Bandcamp page of the two bands.
Buy Terrestrials on the shared Sunn O))) and Ulver Bandcamp page: sunnulversl.bandcamp.com.