The SUNN Also Rises
The dark lords of doom Sunn O))) team up with Norwegian genre-benders Ulver, whose 2013 release Messe I.X-VI.X was #2 in mxdwn’s Top 40 Albums of 2013. The resulting supergroup has graced their devout minions with a new slab of vinyl (and CD and DL), called Terrestrials. This surprisingly beautiful release was purportedly spawned during an all-night improvisational recording session that took place following Sunn O)))’s performance at the 2008 Øya festival in Norway. Then, it had to age for five and a half years to allow earthlings the time to develop the ability to appreciate the progressive brilliance that is this recording.
When it comes to doom, drone or stoner rock, trumpets don’t usually spring to mind, but they sound at home on Terrestrials. This clever instrumentation lends an air of hopefulness and positivity to the thick, rolling drone and atmospheric shimmery guitars and strings of the opening track, “Let There Be Light.” What can only be described as a musical painting oozes into the record, mimicking a post-apocalyptic dawn with the building anticipation of daylight and the possibilities of a new world. The John Coltrane influence comes as no surprise for listeners familiar with Southern Lord founder Greg Anderson’s grunge-era outfit, Engine Kid, who boldly covered Coltrane’s “Olé” on their album Angel Wings.
The second track, “Western Horn,” is the sonic equivalent of a massive swarm of insects approaching, washing over you, then slowly moving off and disappearing into the horizon without getting you too freaked out. The abrupt first blorp of “Western Horn” evokes a kind of tragic inevitableness that pushes its lethargic, pulsing swing nearer to noise territory.
The third and final movement, if you will, possesses the most traditional song structure with the vague semblance of a melody in its first half. “Eternal Return” expounds on the jazz influence by adding what sounds like a Rhodes electric piano and maybe even some vibraphone. There’s a brief transition with a run of church organ chords to a more up-tempo progression complete with some vocals from Ulver’s Kristopher Rygg. Sounding more like a 4AD release than a Southern Lord one, the melodic interlude soon evaporates back into the thick jazzy atmosphere the track started with and then lumbers onward until it finally dissipates.
Terrestrials‘ hybrid sound is heavy with jazz and orchestral influences, which makes it extremely easy to listen to. Those who appreciate experimentation and improvisation will no doubt be pleased by this snapshot of a magical moment in time when these two bands formed their unholy union. Unfortunately for live music fans, the chances of catching a performance of Terrestrials are slim, but if it happens, this year’s metal festival circuit would be the perfect venue.