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I bought this album as I do most of mine – because it was cheap, because I’d heard so much about the band and because I wanted to try out the genre. As I’d never listened to either band before, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I’ll write this review for somebody in my situation – having heard none of either band, and little in the way of drone/doom.
General introduction goes like this – legendary drone group, Sunn 0))), collaborate with the Japanese Boris, who apparently, play a mix of everything fucked up, weird and experimental. The result goes a little something like this.
How really to say what it sounds like other than describing it minute by minute? I’ll start by mentioning that no two tracks on “Altar” sound the same. Etna begins with a massively epic build up with feedback, guitar chords and a drum solo before going into what sounds probably most like a “typical” Sunn 0))) song for the album (bear in mind that this “typical” part takes nearly six minutes to come into effect). You won’t believe that almost ten minutes has passed by the end of this song, because they at least keep it quite interesting, with little bits like the drum solo I mentioned and various interesting noises made with just the instruments and another big feedbacky outro.
This sounds nothing like N.L.T., which could be almost classed as a filler, with some quite ambient overtones that remind one of soulless machines hard at work in a factory. The next major standout track (“Etna” being the first), The Sinking Belle is the only song to contain proper lyrics. It is also by far the track that best resembles “normal music”, with a catchy, down-tempo, very simple chord progression repeated in various octaves by various instruments. Also like “Etna”, Blue Sheep sounds shorter than it actually is because it’s quite enjoyable, and the repetition isn’t a bad thing.
“Akuma No Kuma” would be best listened to on acid, with some quite crazy effects, especially on the vocals, and drums being incredibly slow yet somehow keeping in time. It’s impossible to properly describe the next tracks, but I’ve given the other four my best shot so you can already expect heaps of variation and noises that will blow your mind.
The main problem with Altar is that it doesn’t feel… albumy. Despite having two tracks that are really excellent, and no bad tracks on the recording, it has a problem in that it just doesn’t quite seem to flow together as well as it could. Granted, it would always be difficult to do this, not just because of the avant-garde style of music, but because each track sounds so massively different to the last one. But this isn’t an album-killer, and you’re soon engaged in the next track, due to both quality of music and length (with the only possible exception being the transition between “Etna” and “N.L.T.”, due to the shorter length of the latter, but this wasn’t a problem for me personally and I don’t see it being a problem for anyone but the most picky, prudent listeners).
So the lack of flow really is the only serious point-stealer here. This is definitely worth a purchase, and each track is so varied that it will keep you coming back for more spins.