Sunn O))), pronounced Sun is a doom and drone metal band out of Seattle, Washington. The duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are known for creating some of the most devastating doom metal out there. Holding notes far too long for comfort, setting dark and nasty atmospheres, and embracing all that make ambient music brutal is their specialty. Despite being so good at setting tone throughout a long discography including 6 studio records and 5 split albums, their charm has never quite clicked with me. The idea of what Sunn O))) create is intriguing, but the execution requires a lot more patience than most musical acts.
Ulver, on the other hand, have changed themes and genres since 1993 but have a much simpler sound to engage the listener. Despite starting out as a simple black metal act, Ulver have thrown in electronics and ambient drone to create some harsh and dark atmospheres of their own. Most fans remember the band for their original black metal trilogy, but nothing has been boring from Ulver’s discography. With the prospect of both bands meeting up for a short encounter to create a split album, the expectations were quite high. Ulver and Sunn O))) are two of the most notable dark metal acts out right now, with both having diverse pallets to dive into. The two metal titans come together to create a very interesting split, giving both bands their due time to shine.
As with most black metal albums, there is a ton of atmosphere and drone to grind through as a listener. Each track is loaded with menace that can cut through the diverse instrumentation like a knife, setting an effective but less terrifying atmosphere than most output from both bands. The odd sense of hope one can get from Ulver’s rhythms on the record are surprising but nothing to complain about. Sunn O))) add reverb slathered guitar tones all over the hope to give a solid sense of balance. In a sense, Terrestrials is a good example of light versus dark. Ulver brings in some lighter tones to the 36 minute track listing, while Sunn O))) drop the drone and darkness with a more muted approach than in the past.
“Let There Be Light” kicks off the record with the best of the three tracks. There is a hopeful and calming drone that starts the song out, until the horns and guitar lines take hold of the light and drive it back. The horns quickly grow to become much louder, becoming a death omen looming over top of the muted drone and guitars. Drums come through past the halfway point, adding to the rhythm that the song builds off of. “Let There Be Light” sounds as if it belongs in a film sequence in which a man realizes he is the last man left alive.
“Western Horn” is the least interesting track, giving off a more brooding and dark tone. There is much broader tones, including a terrifying set of piano keys that play well with the drawn-out guitar lines. Sound effects slowly build into the track, almost as if they are breaking their shackles and plundering the track. Despite all of these interesting sounds, “Western Horn” has too small of a build to thunder through and effect the listener on any level.
“Eternal Return” brings the record back to greatness. Clocking in at 14 minutes, this is the most daring and bold track of the split. There are creepy western influenced tones all over the song, only to be broken by some amazing string and piano keys that consistently build. The overwhelming tone of death coming in from the heavy tones meshes well with a hopeful drone that displays the subject is ready for the reaper. Ulver throw in a curveball halfway through, singing some calming but eerie vocals that give the album diversity that it could use badly. This ending is bittersweet, marking the end but not delving deeper into the tapped potential of “Eternal Return.”
For two bands that recorded an album together in a short period of time, Terrestrials is a solid album for fans of both bands. Sunn O)))’s depressive tones and guitar lines muck up every track with sense of dread, while Ulver bring the light to the album, constantly fighting off Sunn O))) with lighter electronics, string, and piano keys. There could be a bit more experimentation present similar to “Eternal Return”, but few bands could come together for this short of a period and create music of this caliber.
1. Let There Be Light
2. Western Horn
3. Eternal Return