Review – Sunn O))) & Ulver: Terrestrials

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Review – Sunn O))) & Ulver: Terrestrials
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Sunn O))) & Ulver: Terrestrials
Ambient, Avant-Garde, Doom Metal, Drone
Southern Lord Records
February 4th, 2014
Release length: 35:15
Sunn O))):
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Ulver:
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On August 10th, 2008, Sunn O))) had performed their two hundredth live performance while in Oslo, Norway. Later on they teamed up with the members of Ambient/Avant-Garde act Ulver for a night of improvisation. This collaboration resulted in the birth of three brand new songs that, while recorded throughout the night, all were derived based on the concept of daylight. Over time, the songs were enhanced and mastered for a good fortnight, all in the hopes of retaining the psychadelic vibe that two entities has churned out. The end result is the brand new album Terrestrials. But is this teaming of two well known masters of their craft a memorable experience?

“I remember the vibe in the room back then was more raga than it was rock. And despite the fact that the walls were literally shaking from volume, it was actually quite a blissed out, psychedelic session. I wanted to preserve that vibe in the final mix.” – Stephen O’Malley

First up is “Let There Be Light,” slowly coming into existence like a reliable morning sunrise. The Electronics slowly become louder and more vibrant over the next few minutes. Six minutes in and that brilliant day races back to the darkness once more thanks to some truly creepy high pitched note from the keyboard, as well as a saxophone. The effects sound surprisingly crisp, as is the subtle rumbling of the bass guitar about seven-and-a-half minutes in, making it a genuine surprise when the slightly raw instruments kick in two minutes later. The drums and additional keyboards lend a Herculean sensation, as if gazing upon not just that sunrise, but something as powerful as the birth of a star in the solar system, or the perfect score for a scene straight out of 2010: A Space Odyssey that demands an epic orchestration behind it.

“We were sitting in the console room, early in the morning, listening to the takes. Someone said, ‘ah, sunrise over Crystal Canyon,’ as if the night had been a dark one. We all laughed and Greg proposed it as a title. In that setting it sounded perfect. The boys had mentioned wanting the music to orient towards the light, like some lost pilgrim stretching before the sun. We kept that mental picture for the processing.” – Kristoffer Rygg

“Western Horn” also starts with a slow build, but gets to the point rather quickly. Picture yourself lost in the desert as the scorching sun beats down on you from the distance. You don’t just want a drink of water, you need it to survive, but there’s simply none around. It’s an intimidating piece that reminds you just how frail your body is against the elements, using what little strength you have to pull yourself through the sands in hope of salvation. Instead, all you find is bleached bones, more cacti, and enough scorpions and snakes to start a tourist trap with. That is, if you get out alive. There’s little hope in this piece, not even a mirage. Thankfully it’s just the performance leaving your mouth and throat as abrasive as sandpaper, almost forcing yourself to combat the effects with a nice, crisp, cold glass of H2O, and maybe a few ice cubes from the freezer before moving on to one last trip for the day.

“‘Western Horn’ accelerates on a single and austere note of sustained bass and low end, evolving gradually into a haunted soundscape. Crying violins, clusters of Fender Rhodes, guitar pickups, and metal plate drones are gradually layered beneath Anderson’s augmented bass feedback.” – Press release

“Eternal Return” is a completely different experience compared to the other two. While the main focus to the release is meant to be daylight, this one feels more like the sun setting upon everything while trying to be as serene as the start of the first track. Some creepy effects are brought in a little later, giving off a slight intimidation against an eighties Science Fiction backdrop, almost like music that would accompany the film Predator. Eventually some clean singing is thrown in before the music explodes like the sun itself, casting the world into perpetual night. While far from the most impressive of the three songs, the climax is worth waiting for, and kind of makes you regret fixing that scratchy throat from before with such cold water thanks to the icy touch that creeps in towards the end, leaving you begging “Let There Be Light” one more time…

“‘Eternal Return’ introduces Rygg singing a lyric evoking ancient Greece, Egypt and the Biblical lands. The song is palindromic, echoing the lyric, beginning and ending with the same bass line and musical pattern, though the guitars are ultimately reversed as the song implodes upon itself.” – Press release

Terrestrials is definitely an incredible experience all around. Grand and vibrant, the three songs act as though you are travelling through three different worlds, all in the span of a single day. It’s rare that you’ll find such impressive acts like Sunn O))) and Ulver teaming up for a single project. Given how long it took to get these three songs, all recorded during an improv session after a live show back in 2008 in the span of a single night, chances are good we won’t see anything like it again from these acts. Even if it isn’t the kind of music you’d typically listen to, Terrestrials ends up an album that is more of a mandatory spin than a suggested one, just to say you heard an album that will probably more important than you think, and not just for the music these two acts have put together here.

“You know that opening sequence of Koyaanisqatsi, where the desolate desert landscapes, waves and cloud formations roll over the screen accompanied by deep male chanting and organ ostinatos. That’s where we were.” – Daniel O’Sullivan

01. Let There Be Light – 11:27
02. Western Horn – 9:38
03. Eternal Return – 14:10
Initial Pressing Score: 8.5/10

Sunn O)))
Sunn O)))

Ulver

Digital review copy of this release provided by Southern Lord Recordings via Earsplit PR.