Another Sunn 0))) collaboration, another document of bowel loosening wonder!
Sunn 0))) and Ulver merge their dark hearts in a spell-binding cauldron of surprisingly elegant doom laced neo-electronic-classical-avant-garde-metal.
Sunn 0))) & Ulver – Terrestrials (Released 10/02/14 via Southern Lord)Sunn 0))) really like collaborating. Indeed, of their 10 commercially released studio albums, 4 of them are collaborative efforts. But one thing about a Sunn collaboration is that more often than not, the duo (Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson) tend to emerge as the dominant force, taking the music of their temporary partners in crime and giving it an extra coat of jet black paint or five. The caveat here though, is that Norwegian collective 'Ulver' create music that is just as dark, so when you put the two together, surely the results would be uncompromisingly bleak? Not so. Quite the opposite in fact. When I first clapped ears on the 2009 Sunn collection 'Monoliths and Dimensions' I was in two minds. On one hand it was by far the most accessible and absorbing piece of work these notoriously bleak, doom merchants had released at that point (unless you count their 'Alter' collaboration album with Japanese noise rockers Boris) but on the other it almost didn't sound like a Sunn album. Seeing the duo live on the 'Monoliths' tour, with legendary black metal vocalist 'Malefic' in tow however (who took to the stage dressed as a tree if memory serves) led me to believe they hadn't forgotten their roots entirely. Ulver's roots lie in relatively traditional black metal (albeit with a liberal sprinkling of gothic folk) but in recent years they have almost completely shed their darker skin in favour of more 'cultural' leanings. Last years 'Messe I.X-VI.X' for example was a neo-classical epic, ridden with bizarre electronic flourishes. It's this angle that they choose to bring to the table on 'Terrestrials' and it couldn't fit more perfectly with O'Mallet and Anderson's dark stew of down-tuned bass, atonal brass and menacing atmospherics. There are 3 tracks here clocking in at a surprisingly short (for these guys anyway) run time of just under 35 minutes. For an album of this nature, that really needs to be 'lived in' and 'absorbed' (apologies if I'm coming across as a bit of a pretentious cockslot here), 35 minutes might seem a little lacking, but the tone here is so consistent and there is so much hidden in the cracks between the notes (or lack thereof) that repeat listens begin to feel almost like fresh experiences. Especially though headphones (in fact I'd say unless your stereo system is rather special there is no other real way to listen to this record). 'Let There Be Light' sounds like the worlds most miserable orchestra tuning up for ten minutes before the final, epic section where tumbling drums and colossal brass join the fray. It's a monumental opening that really makes the best of each artists respective palettes. 'Western Horn' meanwhile is a harrowing, discordant mess (in the best possible way) with almost ten minutes of disembodied wails, terrifying groans and wild, harried strings. It's almost impossible to pick out individual; instruments here as everything melds together into one gigantic wall of black treacle. The set closes with 'Eternal Return', in which Ulver vocalist Kristoffer Rygg joins the fray towards the end of almost 8 minutes of gently building melancholy that wouldn't sound out of place opening a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert. His clear, unaffected vocals suddenly cutting into the mix genuinely took me by surprise first time around and proved more than a little jarring. I'm still undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not. One thing I certainly
have decided however is that 'Terrestrials marks a creative success for both acts. Sunn don't have a habit of returning to past collaborators but in this case I really think there's more potential here that deserves to be unearthed.