Author: Bob Szekely
(Southern Lord, 2014)
#FOR FANS OF: Drone/Ambient/Experimental
Coming in at only three tracks, reviewing this felt like trying to review one of the "Environments" recordings that were popular in the 1970s — soundscapes of nature, recorded to stimulate reflection, meditation and relaxation. Prior to giving this recording a listen, I was familiar with Sunn 0)))'s release 'Black One' —extremely slow, droning, ambient metal. But with the inclusion of Ulver on this recording, who has bounced between black metal, Norwegian folk, electronica, avant-garde, industrial, psychedelic and other genres, it definitely takes on a bit of a more experimental flavor. It took me a while to determine how to review this work, because the nature of this type of composition makes it more amorphous than what we typically identify as metal music. Since it is so atmospheric, I decided to immerse myself in the feelings and images it stimulated, and write of those. In order, now are my impressions of the three pieces on 'Terrestrial': 1) "Let There Be Light" - at almost eleven and-and-a-half minutes, this song opens with a fade-in of echoing notes, very atmospheric and conjuring a surreal, flow-of-consciousness type of feeling. Reverberating strings and keyboards undulate in and out of the mix, followed by bleating horns announcing the break of dawn. This piece is reminiscent 'City of Angels', in which Nicholas Cage, before choosing to fall to mortality, hears the music of the dawn with the other angels. The horns continue, suggesting the endless possibilities of the newfound day which stands before us, alternating between patiently waiting for us to choose a path and teasingly drawing us to choose a potential to start on the path of reality - of becoming more than just a thought or a dream. Halfway through the piece, we here later movements warning of potential danger and conflict of choosing certain potentialities, while simultaneously warning of the greater danger of making not choice at all--of allow all potentials to be irrevocably lost. Around 8:10 the mix thins out--percussion and dissonance come in, heralding the message that the time to choose has past, as our path through the day has now been cast. We must know move through that choice, to wherever it takes us, until we fulfill its potential and arrive at its destination. 2) "Western Horn" - the swell that opens this track is much darker and foreboding that its predecessor. It seems to foreshadow the suggestion of possible imminent danger lurking just ahead, around the next turn. It suggests a ship at sea sailing to uncharted lands--trying to find a better route to a new, yet undiscovered world. It could be a soundtrack to the sailor's map of the middle to late medieval ages, conjuring up the notation of "There Be Dragons" in unexplored territories. Is this voyage a fool's errand? Shall we fall off the edge of Earth, into perdition? Shall we live to return and tell the tale of our trip? Sustained strings and keyboards, occasional buried voices and bass notes set the scene of a potentially terrifying, yet somehow necessary, journey. Between 8:30 and 8:59 it seems that we may well have arrived, as the song then begins to fade.... 3) "Eternal Return" - at 14:10, this is the longest (and final) track on "Terrestrials". Starting with isolated strings, perhaps a Japanese koto, or someone plucking the strings of a piano or a harp, haunting violin melodies and soft organ swim in and out of the forefront of the mix, conjuring the meditative reflection of being fully present in the 'eternal now'. Around 7:30 or so, soft, male voices, piano chords, and pizzicato strings come forth, announcing arrival and a triumph soon to be won. Is this the Buddhist 'satori' - the transcendence of earthly woes through transcendence of self, in union with the cosmic all? Around 10:30, we find ourselves being pulled back from our lofty vantage point — back into the threats and dangers of the mundane existence of the physical. We cannot escape ourselves for long, while we must learn to cherish those times when we do. A bittersweet victory, as we cannot stay outside of ourselves ("in extasis") for very long, if we are to continue to live in this world. Yet, for all of us, lay ahead a permanent escape, at the end of life. If there is an intangible soul which transcends the body, we should expect to be reborn into this world of physicality. All-in-all, with this work, Sunn0))) and Ulver may have arrived at the perfect union of what Sun Ra's Arkestra and Black Sabbath were both trying to achieve. That is, to evoke pure waves of emotion in the listener. The second song, in particular, could easily fit as the soundtrack of a Gothic horror film. 'Terrestrials' is not for cruising, headbanging or windmilling, but it is perfect music for deep and profound reflection, while still providing the necessary catharsis that is a hallmark of heavy metal.