Review Summary: In context, it's a nice, hypnotic little time capsule, but it's difficult to overlook the what-could-have-been.
After an August 2008 festival performance in Oslo, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley made their way to Ulver's Crystal Canyon studio for an all-nighter with the legendary outfit. Over the next five years, the two outfits would continue to meet surreptitiously, adding supplemental layers of instruments to the mix; of note, the brass infusion and elegiac string accompaniments to the ominous bass and electric piano are most assuredly stamped by Ulver. In looking at Sunn O)))'s and Ulver's respective discographies since 2008, the surprisingly incandescent sounds from Monoliths & Dimensions
make more sense, as does Ulver's reimagining of several of their early works (as heard on the sublime The Norwegian National Opera
). In that same vein, Messe I.X-VI.X
serves as another logical progression in Ulver's seamless transition from their black metal roots to ambient melancholy, cultivating minimalist symphonic arrangements and weaving in their trademark electronic flourishes in their collaboration with Tromsø Chamber Orchestra. All things considered, Terrestrials
is very much a time capsule, and it wouldn't be unfair to predict that it would be a cinematic and ethereal affair.
In many ways, it is: album closer "Eternal Return" is equal parts disconsolate and majestic, with a shockingly catchy hook elevated by rumbling, thunderous bass. It is also the only track in the triumvirate to feature Krystoffer Rygg's vocals, which are eerily reminiscent of his cleans in Arcturus. This section separates "Eternal Return"'s mammoth apocalyptic passage from its reticent denouement: a nearly Pink Floyd/Stars of the Lid-turned-evil psychedelic atmosphere coalesces with an ominous Sunn O)))-inspired crescendo, with the movement intensifying even further alongside a haunting string accompaniment before vanishing into gloomy silence. Meanwhile, opening movement "Let There Be Light" manages to sound unquestionably icy, as if traversing through a glacial cave engulfed by arctic shadows. Layer by layer, the song moves languidly towards dawn, with omnipresent bass and guitar swells amidst macabre strings and gelid ambiance. Nearly three-quarters of the way through, dawn breaks: explosive percussion - sounding almost like a stampede, as if that frigid cavern was collapsing around you - takes hold, and the trumpets sigh in-and-out of the suffocating uproar.
' middle track, "Western Horn", is the most Sunn O)))-sounding song, and seems tangibly louder and more imposing than the two bookend tracks. Sporting fiercely monolithic drones and Ulver's relentlessly stalwart string enhancement, the track does well in instilling a sense of harrowing fear and dread, especially as a menacing, howling wind blares through both channels. However, the track seems undeveloped in the sense that the band's respective hallmark strengths are at odds sonically with one another. The drone-doom pacing, the imposing surges, the throbbing feedback, the orchestral component -- all of it is absolutely cacophonous and chilling, but "Western Horn" lacks memorable substance compared to "Let There Be Light" and "Eternal Return".
Given the relative inaccessibility of the drone and dark ambient genres, but knowing that Sunn O))) and Ulver are breaking every convention tied to traditional song structures with their aural onslaught, Terrestrials
is a highlight in how it was constructed. It's difficult to label the record as an exercise in improvisation (although it certainly would have been intense sitting in Crystal Canyon during the pulse-altering, wall-shaking recording process) because it is impressive how Sunn O)))'s magnified low-end intonations coherently integrated with Ulver's penchant for crafting melody and harmony without being completely disruptive. Terrestrials
also doesn't sound like it has been doctored too much since the initial recording in 2008; all the brass and orchestral flourishes sound well-placed and with intention, even if some aren't as remarkable as others. Further, Terrestrials
is an immersive journey, chock-full of amplified bass swells, cinematic grandeur, and winding melodies to complement the howling winds and other environmental tie-ins found on the record. However, the coupling of Sunn O))) and Ulver, two juggernauts in their own right, doesn't bring anything terribly exciting to the masses. Perhaps this is revisionist in nature due to using their later works, such as Messe I.X-VI.X
, Monoliths & Dimensions
, and The Iron Soul of Nothing
in context, but short of "Let There Be Light"'s latter half and the most brilliant passages in "Eternal Return", Terrestrials
sounds relatively subdued, even compared to "CUT WOODeD" from from 2006's WHITEbox
However, despite these objections, it's important to remember that Terrestrials
' meat-and-potatoes were recorded in one night, which is an impressive accomplishment to be sure. Preserving the vociferous energy from that evening, as additional instruments and low-end tectonic swells were added to the mix, helped protect the recording's mesmeric integrity. Even with the missteps and occasional ennui, Terrestrials
is a welcome merger between two insuppressible forces in the industry today, which should leave us all curious about what their next cloak-and-dagger collaboration will sound like.