Friday, 24 January 2014

Sunn O))) & Ulver’s Terrestrials

There was a palpable sense of immensity in the announcement that avant-garde heavyweights Sunn O))) and Ulver would release a collaborative recording. These two musical forces have spent their careers rebelling against traditional song structure and pushing the barriers of genre and frequency, and their matrimony is earth shaking. The most striking aspect of the duo’s first formal joint release, Terrestrials, is how effectively the amplified low-end style of Sunn O))) and the dancing melodies of Ulver were unified without compromising one another. The end result is three long-form compositions that never waver from contemplation and a sense of poetic wandering through the expanding and contracting soundscapes.

Sunn O))) and Ulver have both explored acoustic and orchestrational compositions to a greater degree in their recent albums, and Terrestrials remains consistent with this theme while delving deeper into uncharted territory, seeped in hypnotic textures with augural foresight. The opening movement ‘Let There Be Light’ unfurls itself giving rise to flickering electronics and brass over droning bass progressions, commanded by ethereal horns and chants. Percussion heralds in a cinematic and wall-shaking climax, an auditory decree that powerfully envelopes the listener with its amplified ceremonial grandeur. “Immersive” would be an understatement. 

‘Western Horn’ opens with an ominous droning low-end that evokes visuals of a parched red earth pulsating under an ancient didgeridoo. The second composition builds over throbbing bass notes as feedback spills onto distant guitars and glimmering electronics, arriving at a spectral and menacing space. Imagine standing before the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001, and expect your hair to be blown back. The finale materializes in the poetic and palindromic ‘Eternal Return’ starting with a lush filmic progression of winding melodies and an arioso bass line. The composition builds toward the album’s most Ulver-esque segment, featuring vocalist Kristoffer Rygg’s poetry over a serene arrangement of violin and electronics, culminating in a wailing climax that elucidates the plight of endless wayfaring.

The album’s only lyrical passage brings esoteric antiquity to the fore, ostensibly rendering Terrestrials as a musical interpretation of the Book of Exodus, giving way for the album’s final composition to steadily etiolate and vanish. The union between Sunn O))) and Ulver is concurrently tranquil and tectonic, a vesica piscis stemming from the intersection of two giants. Terrestrials elucidates the grey area between these two mammoth artists and drags it toward the light, creating something highly imaginative and outstanding. Here’s to a fruitful marriage.

Terrestrials can be purchased on Southern Lord’s website.

Nile Bowie is an independent political analyst and photographer – and avant garde music enthusiast – based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at