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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