EP Review: Sunn O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials (2014)

The hooded duo return with allies in ambient Ulver for their latest collaboration (the first being "CutWOODED" from White1).

The hooded duo return with allies in ambient Ulver for their latest collaboration (the first being “CutWOODED” from White1) and, if nothing else, prove that the experimentation present on most recent album Monoliths and Dimensions to be an ongoing process of development and expansion. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley‘s silly drone project has gone from weird, Earth-aping anomaly to one of the most important and dynamic groups in experimental music, equally at ease playing metal festivals, concert halls and art galleries – anywhere that can accommodate their hideously beautiful sound. Ulver, once a black metal band, have gone electr(on)ic and make for interesting cohorts for these three tracks.

“Let There Be Light” starts with what you might think the birth of the universe sounded like. It’s a chiming, whirring, glitchy buzz that eventually gives over to horns that approach somewhere from the dark reaches of space. It’s cosmic and unearthly, all the more so for what sounds like a Morricone-esque slow motion mariachi taking place on some distant planet. Tying in with “Alice Coltrane” from Monoliths and Dimensions, “Let There Be Light” is an ode to jazz and works in that register, with added ethereal keyboards and a lighter than air production touch. It’s atypical for Sunn O)) to sound so melodic but definitely within Ulver’s wheelhouse of late. Those horns give the wary listener something to hold on to as the sound trifle slowly washes over them, and as they dissipate, shortness of breath is unavoidable. If ever you needed further proof that Sunn O))) are a musical act, and not some dry art project, this is that. “Western Horn”, possibly a reference to “A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You” from White1 (again), sounds more like what you’d expect from late-period Sunn O))), with bass-heavy drone sitting alongside shards of glassy instrumentation and occasional field recordings. It’s a heavy cloud that descends on the listener, akin to shitting yourself in the woods (in the best possible way). It has the slowest of slow crescendos yet is the shortest song presented here, taking just under ten minutes to reach some semblance of a conclusion, and setting us up nicely for final track “Eternal Return”.

If you imagine early Portishead played through a glacier, you’re approaching the kind of mood it creates. Insistent twinkles of guitar vie with omniscient bass for space, opening the door to another dimension entirely. If you allow yourself to get lost in it then there’s a chance you might never come back again. It’s just over fourteen minutes of melancholic bliss and, after three or four listens, you’ll wonder how people playing stuff really, really slowly can sound so good. It’s pointless to separate the Sunn O))) from the Ulver, but as the proggy keyboard riffs and distorted vocals appear towards the song’s conclusion, it’s hard not to think that maybe, at that point, the hoods were off. That section jarred with the rest of Terrestials for me, but it doesn’t diminish the strength of this release. If it’s at all indicative of the direction in which Sunn O))) intend to carry on, then the next album should be a real treat. Hopefully it won’t be too long in coming.

Discussion feed

Up next in music