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These guys and gal knew that their fans and foes alike were expecting them to produce one very long chunk of super-heavy avantgarde art metal so instead they offer a very welcome listener-friendly stoner metal album with varied moods and ambience, and different approaches to creating music. Incidentally the idea of Boris and Sunn0))) collaborating on a record may have come about indirectly because of an April Fool's joke perpetrated by Aquarius Records on its website www.aquariusrecords.org in 2005 in which the San Francisco record shop claimed that the two bands plus Earth had released a single consisting of one long guitar chord drone of which only one copy would be made and would be sold to the highest bidder on eBay. (I confess I saw the joke a couple of days after 1 April 2005 and was dumb enough even to ask someone if he was going to bid for it!)
If you were one of those expecting the art metal slab, the closest you will come to it is the hellishly droning opener "Etna" which starts off with Atsuo's hyperactive drumming amid a long drone and then distinguishes itself further with a juicy rump steak guitar riff joined by Wata's yowling lead guitar. This is a very teasing intro which is then swept away by the percussion and bass dronescape piece "N.L.T." which is quite unexpected and which has a very still, contemplative air. The next track is also a surprise: "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" is a quiet lullaby with lyrics written and sung by alternative country music singer Jesse Sykes of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter who sings in a more or less natural voice that seems very warm and sincere, quite a contrast with previous singers for Sunn0))) who have often sounded remote and whose voices have usually been distorted or which operate at the extreme end of their ranges. Piano drifts by in a sort of wavering haze and the guitar work is gentle and bluesy with slight echo and a slide guitar kind of feel that adds a hint of a depressive, desolate mood to this ballad. Who'd have thought that a Boris / Sunn0))) collaboration might have resulted in something close to the spirit of Canadian post-rock ensembles Godspeed You Black Emperor or Do Make Say Think?
"Akuma No Kuma" on the other hand is a more triumphalist stoner soundscape with Sunn0))) and various guests on synths, a solemn trombone workout by Steve Moore and vocoder-treated vocals by Joe Preston. Absolutely NO guitars feature here! - yet the track is quite at home within the Sunn0))) repertoire and weighs just as much as the more strings-laden music in the heavyweight music category.
"Fried Eagle Mind" is an interesting experiment in creating a dreamscape. I think the guitar notes move rather fast for listeners to really tune into the drone and the tones could have been merged more into the droney ambience and synth-generated effects. Halfway through the track there is a gravelly distorted guitar that develops and becomes a hydra-headed virus that fries the dreamer's mind, which brings us to "Bloodswamp" which can be interpreted as a follow-on. This is a very ominous piece suggesting the multiplication of viruses in the dreamer's mind and the accompanying nightmares that the dreamer experiences. Guest musician on this track is ex-Soundgarden axe-grinder Kim Thayil though his contribution seems very submerged. There's only one outcome in the absence of effective medical treatment against the infection so the track continues to build, up and up and up until ... well, to quote Shakespeare, the rest is silence.
Actually, not quite silence yet ... there's still the small matter of the bonus CD called "Altar - Prelude - SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas" (an in-joke relating to Soundgarden, I think) with the one track "Her Lips Were Wet With Venom" which is a 28-minute dronescape monster featuring cowboy blues metal guitar solos from Dylan Carlson of Earth. This is more the looong concrete-sized slab of art metal drone many people are probably expecting. It's also a very hypnotic psychedelic piece with many special effects and noisy textures going on. Wata's guitar wails appear at some point during the track so I think the guitarists took it in turns to play solos though Carlson does the most soloing. Probably the track could have done with some further editing, remixing or manipulation of the drone in the latter part of the track as it is a very long space-jam. Somewhere in that track, Boris, Sunn0))) and Dylan Carlson probably fulfilled all the necessary requirements for that fictitious single of the heavy E chord drone.
Boris and Sunn0))) understood that it wasn't enough just for the two of them to stand in the studio together crowded by their amplifiers and simply pool their styles and methods; they have used the collaboration as a base to jump off into areas they had not previously explored and have brought in other collaborators including Adrienne Davies (Earth), sometime Sunn0))) touring companion TOS Nieuwenhuizen and Joe Preston to help them realise their ambitions. Apart from the bonus CD there is not that much drone going on and the record is surprisingly varied with a lot of ambient and mood music.