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Ulver could've easily made this without Sunn - 60%

MasterOfDissonance, May 13th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2014, Digital, Southern Lord Recordings (Bandcamp)

I might not be the best person to review this, because this feels much more of an Ulver album than Sunn album, and I always found Ulver's use of ambience to be lacking in direction. Most of the time, I can't figure out what it is that they are trying to create with their mixes of audio layers, so maybe I just don't get it, but at the same time, it's a perfectly valid criticism: I don't get it.

I don't understand what they're trying to do here. All 3 songs create a fairly bright layer of ambience, which has some degree of sophistication to it, I'll grant it that, but doesn't really emote anything either. They just sit there, waiting to for their sonic qualities to be examined, but don't seem to be assembled with a purpose in mind. If this album were a story, it would have a setting and characters, but no plot. Because it's Ulver we are dealing with, you can expect some unusual sonic additions that are odd to the point of feeling random (for example, there's a sax on the first song. Bet you didn't see that one coming in an ambient/drone album), and this is the album in a nut shell. Oh yeah, and Sunn is somewhere in the mix too.

Sunn's input consists of soaring leads infused with delay. Their guitars are blended so well with the keyboards that you almost don't notice that there are guitars in that sonic spectrum, so if you came here to enjoy Sunn's trademark monstrous guitar sounds, you won't find it anywhere on this release. I also can't say that I feel their songwriting input in any of the tracks either. Basically Ulver could've made this album on their own, and it's just another case of Sunn outsourcing the creative part to someone else because they don't have new ideas to contribute to the genre anymore.

The third track is where the album shines. Sunn get to do something besides backing the keyboards for a while, and the strictly ambient feel of the album is broken by a melodic section with some vocals. It's a nice way to finish off the album, and it leaves you wanting more. Perhaps if the whole album was like this I could've rated it higher. As it is, I have to rate it low because it's not really a Sunn album, and I also have to rate it low because it's an Ulver album.

A masterpiece that's just short of perfection - 95%

bryankerndrummer, March 2nd, 2015

I might as well warn you before you step into this album without knowing what you're doing - this is not a metal album. This album, while dabbling in some doom-oriented experimentation, is primarily an ambient/drone album. So unless you have a strong sense of patience and/or already know that you enjoy ambient/drone, I wouldn't recommend that you check this out. Arguably, this review is useless having said that (after all, this is the Metal Archives), but I can't imagine that a lot of Sunn O))) or Ulver fans would hate ambient or drone music, so let's get a move on.

Sunn O))) and Ulver, two prolific leading forces in the face of modern experimental music, have finally come together to unveil to the world what kind of droning magnificence they can compile when fusing their powers together. This album twists, turns, brightens up with sparks of sunlit fury and dies down with ominous chills. Very reliant on detail, this album churns through layers and layers of doomy ambient, making slight changes every so often to form a cohesive, gradually shifting whole. And while the entire album demonstrates this notion of slow, patience-testing transformations throughout its running time, each track here molds its own identity and features individually distinguishable characteristics. Due to this (plus the fact that there are only three songs), I'll be doing this review track-by-track.

Terrestrials begins with the song "Let There Be Light," slowly unveiling the sound of sunlight-filled pastures in the evening; electronic ambiance lingers about the air, twisting and turning into the sound of graceful subtleties. A couple of horns introduce themselves and lift the track into a steadily rising, majestic soundscape. It's so hypnotic, so detailed and perfected, that five minutes end up flying by with little notice. The track builds to a slowly intensifying wave of sound, up until close to eight and a half minutes in, where drums kick in with some tribal flailing before the horns burst into a wall of musical bombardment. Some distorted electric guitars ring in the background (likely being played by you-know-who), and from there the track becomes one big, enchanted drone until it quickly dies out.

The second track, "Western Horn," is a far more ominous and threatening beast. Heaving, gnashing, and churning, a monster drone rumbles beneath the oldest layers of the Earth's crust. Some clean, delay-induced guitars float about the air, fairly reminiscent of Stephen O'Malley's work with KTL around the time this album was recorded (2008-2012, in case you didn't know). The rumbling bass drones continually build tension and volume, ensuring that they're first in line to strike unwarned listeners with the sound of fear. Other tangled, glitchy electronics and musical details are present in the background, ensuring that there's little room left to breathe. A ride cymbal makes itself known for a second before drifting off again, and some horns quietly build far toward the back of the mist. Around seven minutes in, these horns become much more apparent and build into a wall of sound similar to the first; very majestic and capturing the feeling of some kind of tournament. Other audible uneasiness lurks through these cloudy layers, intertwining with other existing sounds before disappearing into oblivion. The outro is signaled by more clean guitars, this time less driven by effects and more driven by the guitar's natural sound.

"Eternal Return" takes some elements from the last track and furthers them into a more bittersweet framework, rather than an ominous one. This track circles through cavernous strings and electronics, a very shoegaze-sounding guitar being strummed somewhere in the clutter. The sound of a dimly lit underground utopia swirl through the air, very induced in a dream-like state of sound and texture. Like the first track, five minutes can go by with barely any recognition of that fact. Seven minutes in, an equally dreamy keyboard melody introduces itself, quickly followed by dramatic piano and singing, also reminiscent of the kind of sound Ulver was working with at the time. The singing escalates even more dramatically and then shortly after fades out, being interrupted by a dark, brooding wall of sound to take the place of all that was going on before. At first, it seems as though the song is going to go back into what it was on "Western Horn," but this part of the song also quickly changes tone, this time into a hazy conglomerate akin to the beginning of the track. It drifts about for a few minutes and then closes with some very fast, almost staccato violin work (or viola, I don't know the difference).

Every song on here is masterfully crafted into a very layered collage of droning atmospherics. The vivid, detail-oriented nature of this album causes it to seem shorter than it actually is, which is the only downside to this album. Its surprisingly short running time of just over 35 minutes leaves a lot more to be desired, especially with its anticlimactic nature speeding up the effect that the immersion of each track can have. That aside, however, this album is a genius-level work of ambient craftsmanship, and I sincerely hope that Sunn O))) and Ulver go on to do some collaborative tour and expand their work together to create more music like this.

Usually I pick a favorite track, but hell, I can't decide here. This entire album is absolutely fantastic; I recommend it to anyone who's either a fan of drone/ambient or wants to get a good introduction to the genre. Listen to it, love it, keep droning.

Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials - 95%

Witchfvcker, April 24th, 2014

Over the last 20 years, few groups have been able to continually redefine themselves like the multifaceted musical collective Ulver. From raw black metal and folk, by way of glitchy trip-hop and dark ambient, they are an unparallelled entity of metamorphic sounds and sights. With last year’s Messe I.X – VI.X they showed yet another aspect of their nebulous beauty, this time venturing into the sphere of neoclassical chamber music. Without the entrapment of classification, and far beyond the need for pretension, every new Ulver-release is like a rebirth

On the surface gargantuan duo Sunn O))) seem easier to bracket than their Norwegian comrades. Infamous for bringing drone to the unwashed masses, perpetually robed duo Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have left deep scars on the world of doom, through projects as diverse as Goatsnake and Burning Witch. Accompanied by a veritable mountain of amps, their deliberate and hellish wall of noise is a suffocating experience.

Anderson’s own label Southern Lord has the honor of releasing this much-anticipated collaboration between the two eminences, concisely titled Terrestrials. The foundation of this collusion was laid as a live session in Oslo back in 2008. After several years of knob-turning and addition of brass and strings, the result of their partnership is finally unleashed upon the public.

“Let There Be Light” begins as a twinkle of light, with soft percussion and a distant horn signaling omens of desert rain. Fragile and subtle, the growing chords are a rising sun attended by portentous strings. Drums roll in like thunder, and a new day is shining over the barren land. It’s an ambient piece that crescendos to a climactic burst of luminescence.

The next piece, “Western Horn”, delves down into exceedingly darker realms. More similar to Sunn O)))’s Monoliths And Dimensions, it is a disquieting work of sonic suspense, dominated by monolithic droning bass and jittery effects. The atmosphere is subterranean and claustrophobic, a journey through infernal caverns and chasms. Whereas its predecessor felt like something out of a celestial dream, “Western Horn” is grim and nightmarish in its incessant dissonance.

Closing off Terrestrials, “Eternal Return” is the real treasure of the album. A heartrending piece of music, it starts out with dolorous strings and those distinctive Ulver-keys. The tension slowly mounts as the mournful violin travels through vast soundscapes, eclipsing the droning of its forebears. As the concluding seven minutes of the 14 minute-track brings the album to an end, Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg whispers dying words of ancient Egypt while the music reaches its apex. After the preceding darkness, the ending feels like a final ascension into the light. Celestial gates are opened, tranquility reigns, enlightenment has been obtained.

Like its constituents, Terrestrials is a work of transfiguration, steeped in a liminal state between perpetual darkness and sublime bursts of light. The combination of remarkably dense atmosphere and beautifully subtle touches makes this an astronomical piece of experimental music. Six years of refinement shines through on this exceptional joint effort between two of the most interesting bands of our time.


Written for The Metal Observer

Sunn O)))/Ulver - Terrestrials - 80%

Twin_guitar_attack, March 12th, 2014

Sunn O))) and Ulver are two of the most important bands in experimental music of the last decade, with Sunn O)))’s drone metal redefining what it really means to be heavy in the 21st century, while the ever-changing Ulver, since abandoning their early black metal beginnings, have mixed their own style of electronics with a diverse mix of genres such as trip-hop, ambient and even classical chamber music over the years. With this shared penchant for experimentation, this collaboration just makes sense, and my excitement for this release was huge.

Let there be Light features Sunn O))) playing their trademark droney guitars, but not in their usual bludgeoningly heavy style, instead providing some dark and haunting textures as a base for Ulver to play off of. Their contribution continues in the vein of 2012′s Messe I.X-VI.X, with brass and string instruments played over the top, creating a sense of uneasiness and melancholy, the sound of the horns particularly adding to this. It would seem the title “Let there be Light” isn’t fitting at all, until near the end when slow drums come in over the top, and the brass instruments grow louder in the most epic of manners, while all the while the drones play on and on, and it hits you like the sun suddenly coming over the horizon over a dark landscape, illuminating everything around in a sea of light and brightness.

Western Horn brings back the sense of darkness. With rumbling monolithic bass tones, electronic weirdness, ambient guitar riffs drenched in delay, haunting string sections, brass instruments, and even sparse piano and drums, there’s a heck of a lot going on in this track. It takes several listens to fully appreciate, but it’s excellently complete, and despite it’s dark atmosphere, it almost feels serene at the same time – it fits in the dark ambient bracket rather well. It drones and rumbles darkly, but it’s also wonderfully beautiful and melancholic. It’s perhaps the best piece on the album, despite it’s short length.

The closing track “Eternal Return” is the most ambient track of the lot, with a lot of emphasis on the strings instruments over the rumbling bass, with Ulver’s trademark electronics coming in at the half way point along with Garm’s only vocals of the album delivering a dark and haunting performance, possibly his best one ever. It’s the longest piece on the album, and it has a beautiful atmosphere to it.

If there’s anything negative to say, it’s that its simply too short, clocking in at only 36 minutes. Sunn O))) have longer singular pieces of music in their catalogue, and there are so many great ideas, particularly on Western Horn, that they could have been fleshed out further over a longer playing time. However, despite it’s short length it doesn’t feel incomplete, and most good albums should leave you wanting more.

A lot of collaborations don’t seem to work, but like Sunn O)))’s earlier collaboration with Boris, this is incredible, with both artists gelling together well and delivering an excellently dark and melancholic release. This is a perfect follow up to both Ulver’s Messe I.X-VI.X, and Sunn O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions, and is an exciting, vibrant album which doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, taking it’s cues from drone, electonic, dark ambient and chamber music. Definitely not one to be missed by fans of either band, or experimental music in general.

Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com