Review Summary: This unusually even collaboration serves as a good starting point for people who want to either discover the dark soundscapes of Sunn O))) or get into Boris's more experimental side, due to its (relative) accessibilty.
There's those moments in music, when two great artists you really like record a collaborative album, and you'll think this collaborative album will be the thing you've been waiting for since you started listening to those two artists, but the actual result of the collaboration is the exact opposite: a goddamn piece of crap. Remember those two albums Jello Biafra made with The Melvins, for instance? I mean, they weren't bad or anything, in fact they were rather good, but they sounded like the Dead Kennedys resurrected, and not like the Melvins playing songs written and sung by J. Lo Biafra! See what I mean? The collaboration was too one-sided, probably because the Melvins and Jello don't have a lot in common, musically, and they just couldn't find a way to fuse their respective styles.
But what happens when two bands that seem like they're bound for collaborting "do it" with each other? Or, more precisely, what happens when two of the most exciting Avant Doom Metal bands, North America's Sunn O))) and Japan's Boris decide to work "as one creative unit", as they say? The result is called Altar and is, quite frankly, pretty goddam genius. It fits well within Boris's catalog of "experimental" album, and is, at the same time, more varied and accessible than anything Sunn O))) have ever Dunn O))), while still retaining their "specical feel".
Altar starts out with Etna. At this point you'll think "Hell, is this one of those o' (or rather O)))) those one-sided collabs again", because for the first few minutes it sounds like anything Sunn O))) recorded in the past 7 years. Low-end guitar/bass drones, but the sludgefest is soon joined Boris skinsman Atsuo's powerful, crazed drumming and some classic Wata (FEMALE(!!!!) Boris guitarist) feedback. So the whole thing ends up being a slow-building fusion of the sound of both bands. Now, that's how a collab should sound! Shame on you Jello and Buzzo! (N.L.T. is just a short sequel of Etna and not really noteworthy.)
Track 3, The Sinking Belle comes as something of a surprise. I mean, I always knew that Boris had some melodic pop senibilities (remember Farewell, from their glorious album Pink?), but Mr. Stephen O'Malley and Mr. Greg Anderson? No way! I wonder who persuaded them into actually participating on this track. The song is a really melodious piece of shoegazer pop that consists of a piano wrapped in gentle-sounding guitar drones (you prolly won't believe me, but that's what it is!) and fronted by the somber, low (for a woman) voice of alt. country singer Jesse Sykes.
Akuma No Kuma on the other hand, soups up the same sound we heard in Etna with bizarre synths and a typical vocal delivery by Joe Preston (Earth, Melvins, Thrones, High On Fire, lord knows what else). The title means something like "Bear Demon", BTW.
Fried Eagle Mind starts in the same melodic shoegazer heaven that The Sinking Belle occupied before (Jesse Sykes on vocals yet again) and slowly descends into amp noise hell.
The final song, the 14-minute Blood Swamp is the most purely Sunn O)))-sounding track on here, but it still has a few twists, such as a warm, melodic synth and a feedback-heavy, undermixed lead guitar.
Even though Altar is a lot lighter and more mellow than what Sunn O))) are usually up to, the whole album retains quite a bit of their typically subtle sense of darkness. Even The Sinking Belle and Fried Eagle Mind have a strong undercurrent of doom and gloom, Sunn-style, and the sense of exploration, Boris-style definitely adds to it.
In conclusion, this unusually even collaboration serves as a good starting point for people who want to either discover the dark soundscapes of Sunn O))) or get into Boris's more experimental side, due to its (relative) accessibilty.