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Sunn O)))/Ulver: Terrestrials

Album Review

Avant-metal overlords pool their forces

Sunn O))) and Ulver have history. As early as 2003 the drone titans and cult Scandinavian ambient metal group teamed up for the first time to record the track CUTWOODeD for the former’s album White1, and one can only presume that the American duo found kindred spirits in the Norwegian/Anglo post-black metal outfit, given how sublime Terrestrials is (Altar, Sunn O)))’s 2006 collaboration with Boris, is a great collection of tracks but entirely lacks the cohesiveness to be found here).

Even after their career best, Monoliths & Dimensions in 2009, it’s hard to imagine Sunn O))) applying this light a touch on their own and the organic beauty of this record belies the whopping six years taken to make and release it from first recording session. 

The way opening track Let There Be Light builds gently with back-masked guitar parts, analogue synths, brass and violins points to Ulver’s more recent orchestral-leaning work such as Messe I.X-VI.X. However Sunn O)))’s rigorous approach to composition prevents the piece from taking anything approaching a well-signposted route. When the 15-minute epic breaks with colossal drum fills at about the 8:30 mark, this is about as close as we get to Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s guitar and bass abyssal throb on this record, and even then it is tempered by instrumentation that could have been scored by Ennio Morricone. 

Western Horn is a heavily psychedelic swell of Fender Rhodes piano and massively echoing guitars underpinned by slab-like layers of thick bass, that pays tribute to older drone forefathers such as the NYC sound artist Tony Conrad and the Indian master tabla player Shankar Ghosh. They save the best until last with Eternal Return, a palindromic song that sweeps along like the long beam of a lighthouse, reaching a crescendo flash of brilliance in the middle before retreating away from the centre in exactly the same manner. 

Violins and violas are played to great effect by Daniel O’Sullivan, paving the way for Kristoffer Rygg’s impassioned vocals and blissed-out cosmic synths, more in keeping with Tangerine Dream or Cluster than one might expect. A tremendous addition to the canons of both bands.

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