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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.