Terrestrials review by Sunn O))) & Ulver

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  • Released: Feb 3, 2014
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 7.7 (18 votes)
Sunn O))) & Ulver: Terrestrials

Sound — 8
Are you ready to crawl headfirst into the underground world of metal? Are you ready to breathe your heart and soul into an album as it breathes its into you? And, mere mortal, are you ready to sacrifice your mind for a full hour as you plunge into the void in an effort to understand this album?

Because it takes this and more in order to have a chance to translate the album from its sonic sense into something that you can understand. This process to some will be plodding and boring, but to others, it will be, as it always is, a rich and revealing experience.

To put it bluntly, some people will find that this type of ambient music is mere noise. But others will see much more. As for me, I try to ingratiate myself fully into an album like this because to do otherwise would not give the album justice. By doing so, I can better judge the album on its merits as a piece of music, as a piece of art, regardless of its genre. For this album, two underground yet somewhat popular metal groups, Sunn O))) and Ulver, collaborate to make a statement and to create an experience.

The album consists of three songs, two around ten minutes in length and one approaching fifteen. Contrary to what I would have guessed coming into the album, it is apparent that the three songs (they aught to be called compositions) are separate from each other in terms of their vibe and message. The songs do not flow into one another and though they use many of the same musical techniques, they come across very differently. Therefore, it is best to offer a review of each song individually, as I directly heard them.

"Let There Be Light" - this song is the best song on the album. The start of the song is an ambient drone, with insect-like tones ramping up and down in volume, with no notes held out for long. The notes almost flicker, like if done with a guitar's toggle switch. After about two minutes, the first sustained note comes in, sounding very trumpet-like. At the three-minute mark, the trumpet starts making more rapid, well-defined lines, giving the song a distinctly eastern feel. At this point, a bassier instrument comes in. The song brings to mind a very odd picture of riding an elephant in the moonlight across the barren sands of Egypt. Tension builds with the introduction of a violin-like instrument that I can't put my finger on and then the trumpet comes back in as tension continues to mount. The mounting tension turns into somewhat of a saunter before all the sound slowly filters out. The trumpet plays a quiet little phrase and then out of nowhere, these big banging toms come in and then, all at once, all the instruments sound as the climax of the song is reached and the symbols are triumphantly pounded. The remainder of the song is a parade of various chords creating by all the instruments at once. 

"Western Horn" - this song is probably the most dejected one of the three. The beginning is very dark. A continuous bass note pounds in the background while the violin-like tones waste no time in creating an unpleasant tension. This is not to say that the song is unpleasant, rather that the section purposefully creates an unpleasant feeling. The feeling of tension subsides but the unpleasant feeling does not. By the four-minute point, the volume seems to be on the rise and an eerie sound, like that of a bumblebee comes into focus. If "Let There Be Light" was about a man riding through Egypt at night, then surely by this point he is stranded, with no animal, lost in the endless mass of the desert. As the bumblebee sound rocks back and forth in volume like the lines on a seismograph, the feeling of terror the song had, becomes far less terrifying. For the rest of the song, it seems that the same chords are played repeatedly, to less of an effect each time over. Unfortunately, I didn't find much of an inner meaning in the last half of this song. Maybe, it wasn't good, maybe my mind wasn't open enough; I'll let you be the judge. 

"Eternal Return" - the start of this song is certainly the most melodic part of the album so far (that doesn't say much, though). The ensuing couple of minutes are a haze of soft instruments, all so serene. There is no true melody, though the soft instruments trade melodic phrases. For the most part, the instruments work together to produce a somewhat harmonious void. However, the length of this section of the song is too long; I become bored waiting for a transition. Slowly, but surely this transition comes in the form of prolonged, ever-increasing feedback. Surprisingly, this depressing feedback transitions to the overall most melodic part of the album: a synth melody with vocals. The feedback mingles with the synth melody along with a rivulet of violin-like tones to create a catchy (gasp!) rhythm, the perfect canvas over which to sing. The vocals, as triumphant as they sound, only last for about a minute before the song transitions to a deep, dark abyss, where a feeling of terror intermingles with a feeling of resignation for the rest of the song. Presumably, this last section is to show that the long lost man does not return home after his wretched forty-year peregrination.

At least, for me, that's what emerged from the feedback. I hope you can have a similar experience.

Lyrics — 7
There are very few vocals on the album. All the vocal presence of this album is used on the final song, "Eternal Return." Here the vocals are used to great effect, to mimic someone or something great and powerful returning after a forty-year absence. Since vocals are used at no earlier point on the album, their arrival toward the end of "Eternal Return" is unexpected and refreshing; virtually defining the idea of seldom used and perfectly placed vocals. Surprisingly, the lyrics are easy to understand even though they blend seamlessly into the mix, almost like shoegaze vocals. Overall, the vocal performance is average but wins because of its concise and effective nature.

Overall Impression — 7
In total, this album is a solid collaboration between two underground bands. Listening to the album was definitely a pleasant, almost enlightening ritual. Nevertheless, this album failed in going over the top to make a truly incredible experience. Basically, for the amount I had to sacrifice/invest to absorb and understand this album, I was expecting a greater return.

Still, the album was good enough for me to recommend it to you. At the very least, you should experience the opening song, "Let There Be Light," which had more power and feeling from the trumpets than the other two whole songs had combined.

All it costs is ten minutes of your time. Of course, if the song gets you into its clutches, you may spend an eternity.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I gave the first track a listen and I don't really know how to feel about it, I guess it's not for me but after 5 minutes you're really sucked into the song and that I liked actually.
    This album's incredibly boring and directionless, as was Messe I.X-VI.X. Also Ulver haven't been a metal group for nearly two decades now. Ulver created something amazing with Shadows of the Sun. Alas, somehow they lost their way.
    Messe was great, good switcharoo from Wars of the Roses. I'm listening to this album and find myself enjoying it but I'm not sure for how long. I think the best way to listen to this album is just before you fall asleep.