Allow me to give some context: I have much more experience with Sunn O))) than with Ulver. Frankly, Ulver hasn’t really interested me for a very long time. But Sunn O)))‘s collaborations have a great track record; their album with Boris was tremendous stuff — experimental music at its finest. And if there’s anything to take from Terrestrials, it’s that music isn’t mathematic and there’s no certainty that with all the right elements you’ll come out with an amazing album.
Here’s the problem — Sunn O))) have shown time and time again that despite the narrow goal of their sound, they’re very good at experimenting and adding new ideas. They go for the same general sound, but find so many different ways to reach it.
The only way this collaboration could have worked is if Ulver took center stage and added more to this collaboration than Sunn O))), but the very opposite happened here and Terrestrials sounds like just a Sunn O))) recording. And this isn’t really a bad thing if you consider the last Sunn O))) studio album was 2009’s great Monoliths & Dimensions; but much of the experimentation here is so identical to that album that it almost sounds like a rehash; the most frustrating possible scenario for two innovative artists.
Though perhaps I’m being deceiving — this isn’t really typical Sunn O))). In the opening track “Let There Be Light,” the distinctive “BWOO” low-tuned wall-of-noise droning guitar isn’t really present. But this isn’t the first time they’ve abandoned their staple to achieve great results (first track of Dømkirke). Instead, the drones are achieved by more conventional means and with fewer amp stacks. There’s a prominent brass section that plays in a far more melodious manner than on Sunn O)))‘s last recording, but it’s still too hard to differentiate, considering it strives for the same goal. I do, however, like how this track builds and swells with very subtle sound effects. The drums in the latter half give it a bit of life, but as a whole the song still doesn’t feel like the product of two artists taking leaves from each others’ books and experimenting in new ways, which is what the Sunn O))) and Boris split achieved so memorably.
“Western Horn” brings things back to familiar territory. Predictably, more familiar to Sunn O))) than Ulver. The droning bass with the shimmering dissonant strings and brass that slowly build is, again, something every Sunn O))) fan has heard before. “Eternal Return” is a bit more interesting, the strings taking a more melodic approach beneath the disorienting drones, sounding very similar to what Sunn O))) went for in “Alice,” but with a much less controlled feeling. But it simply isn’t interesting enough to warrant a close listen — you may lose yourself for a moment, but you’ll feel yourself coming back all too soon, partly due to the familiar territory of the soundscape and partly due to the album being deceivingly short. Though perhaps that’s one of its strengths, when you consider the directionless improvisational feel this recording has. But even considering that I couldn’t imagine myself returning to it, even if the latter half with the vocals and electric piano really start to hit the mark.
Expectations may lead you to believe that this is a disappointing effort from two highly-regarded experimental artists in the metal scene. You may have a point — when all’s said and done, Terrestrials doesn’t wander outside of well-trodden pastures that both Ulver and Sunn O))) helped fertilize. Perhaps we’re in our right to expect more — when two artists of high acclaim and arguably opposite ideas come together, shouldn’t the results be more than what is a very average drone album? That’s up to you. Hype aside, this is simply another place-holder in two extensive discographies that I doubt will be remembered.