Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials

Today saw the release of the full-length collaboration between Norway's eternally experimental former black metallers Ulver, and the hooded American-turned-French drone kings Sunn O))). At first glance this seemed like a weird decision to me, but once I really thought about it, it kind of makes perfect sense. Neither band is notable for the normalcy of their output, and there seemed a definite path this collaboration could follow. It would be slow and probably a bit kooky, and since I'm not a big fan of either band I probably wouldn't like it that well, but it could basically work just fine.

The result surprised me.

This is almost not a metal album at all. Instead, I'd be inclined to call it the world's most evil jazz record. Terse strings seethe through the hazy blackness, holding the listener on edge. Then out of the dark, a little sparkle emerges. It's Miles Davis, playing his most delicate and tortured trumpet, calling out before the swirling ambient mists swallow him back into the vast abyss. He lingers in the memory, though, the shimmering horn letting out faint calls in the night. Time passes, and you tensely listen on, wondering if he will return, when out of the dark lumbers a grotesque, indecipherable mass. A swollen atrocity of Lovecraftian proportions which looms out of the blackness, then disappears leaving you with the horrible realization that you are not alone and not safe out in this bleak soundscape.

And that's just the first of three tracks.

Now I realize how grossly melodramatic that description was, but I wrote it as I played through that song because it captured the feelings and imagery I experienced as I listened. This is very much one of those albums you experience and feel as much as you hear. The tension, the glimmers of beauty, and the revelations of horrible, leering darkness are all an integral part of what this album does.

It's primarily ambient in nature, so there isn't much to talk about by way of song structure. The production is fine in the "I didn't really notice it one way or the other" kind of way. The instrumental performances, insofar as they're just about creating atmosphere rather than playing fully-formed songs, are perfect. It's an exceptionally well-executed effort that will just not appeal to many listeners due to its nature.

In terms of the other tracks on the album, the second follows a less dramatic path, but it quietly and effectively passes the time before the third and longest entry introduces a beautiful and curiously Asian element to the strings as well as the album's only vocal work. The three songs are successfully built to work wonderfully in unison, so the album is best played straight through in full.

If and when you do listen to this album, only do it when you have nothing pressing on your mind, and only do it in a dark, quiet place that is free from distractions. This isn't Slayer. You can't just blast it over top of bustling activity and noise. The effect depends on the listening environment (and your mental state) so don't waste it on such situations. It's too good to skim past and miss like that.

I didn't expect too much. I was wrong. While this is only just on the fringes of being metal, it is absolutely fantastic.

Grade: A

Full Album on Bandcamp


  1. Drone doesn't really do anything for me. I have tried several times. I think I will be skipping this one.

  2. Fair enough. I usually don't care for it, either. That's why I was surprised I liked this so well.