Thursday 20 February 2014

Review: SunnO))) & Ulver – 'Terrestrials'


The combined curriculum vitae of SunnO))) and Ulver make for impressive reading. The members of each band have been pushing the limits of music beyond further than most would dare. So as a collaboration, 'Terrestrials' has been one of the most anticipated experimental albums of recent memory with mouths salivating at what such a union would produce. 

The album was recorded over night at Ulver's Crystal Canyon Studios back in 2008, just after SunnO)))'s 200th gig. In the years since, both acts have unleashed landmark albums respectively (i.e. SunnO)))'s 'Monoliths And Dimensions' [2009] and Ulver's 'Messe I.X-VI.X' last year). The time therefore definitely feels right for 'Terrestrials' to see the light of day.

It is apt then that the first of the three monolithic cuts on the album is christened 'Let There Be Light'. The track slowly rises and flickers into life, radiating dense layers of sustained guitars before unleashing flares of strings and near martial rhythms and brass before slowly setting again. 'Western Horn' begins with more sinister machinations. Slow and dark, it rolls in from the horizon like a storm front. The thundering rhythm and noisy undertones are a constant foreboding presence while the lighter swirling guitars entice you to keep looking beyond the clouds and to the light on the horizon. The album culminates in the fourteen-minute 'Eternal Return'. Which radiates light, but sinister guitars, while a mournful violin laments over ambient but somewhat jazzy keyboards. The track then settles into a repetitive synth and piano section providing Kristoffer Rygg with a space for the album's only vocal passage supplied his unique style of delivery. The track unfortunately slowly loses its direction after the moment where vocals cease, which would have been the logical point of conclusion.

'Terrestrials' may not be the dark slab of experimental drone that many will be expecting, and it certainly bears little resemblance to SunnO))) and Ulver's last sonic collaboration on the track 'CUTWOODeD', but this album is a satisfying listening experience. The mixing of SunnO)))'s analogue prowess with Ulver's digital mastery creates a perfect union that frees each side up to fully cut loose and set their minds adrift. This can let the songs at times feel somewhat rudderless in places, but they always manage to bring it back into focus.

'Terrestrials' feels like a soundtrack to an unfinished film or an audio companion to silent meditation. It may not scale the same heights as each band's individual works, but its naturally evolving soundscapes are an accessible and enjoyable listen.

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