“Great Scott of the Antarctic! That’s the other Arctic, the one where all the ants live, Batman! Do you think he’s working with Ant-Man in his secret Antarctic lair?”
“No Robin, we’re DC, Ant-Man is Marvel. Ant-Man doesn’t actually have an Antarctic lair; any of the Ant-Mans in fact. Although, on an unrelated note, Sunn O))) & Boris put out a great record in 2006 called Altar that is really rockin’.”
“Jeepers creepers Batman, what are you talking about? That record is just a bunch of horrible noise!”
“Perhaps to your naive and untrained ears, Robin. To those of us possessing a more refined musical palette, I can assure you it is a release of monumental importance…”
“Shivering balloon animals Batman, when did you become such a hipster?”
Altar (Sunn O))) & Boris) (2006)
Altar was a big deal at the time, and it still is.
This album is important because it contains Sunn O))), Boris, members of Earth, Jesse Sykes’ band The Sweet Hereafter, Soundgarden, and of course, the mighty Joe Preston. It doesn’t really sound exactly like what you might think that combination would create, it’s broader and more interesting than that.
Opener Etna is as cool as I remember, it pretty much is what you might expect from adding Boris to Sunn O))). It’s essentially the sound of Sunn O))) crossed with Boris’ more structured style. There’s a mighty slow riff in here, and some lead guitar and big cavernous drums. It’s considerably broader in frequency range than traditional Sunn O))), and more riff focussed to boot.
NLT is unexpectedly the sound of a really long bowed double bass note with some bowed cymbals. It’s amazing how wonderful a slow bowed bass sounds.
But where it really all shifts gears is The Sinking Belle. There are multiple versions of this track, but the primary one White Sheep is probably the first Sunn O))) related piece that you could legitimately call a song. It’s led by piano and the sweet low voice of Jesse Sykes. And there’s no trick here, it’s not lulling you into a false sense of security before rasping your eardrums to shreds. No, just a really cool, slow, quiet folksy song, with layers and layers of sweet warm toned goodness.
Akuma no Kuma features Joe Preston on vocoder and Steve Moore on trombone, and is in the finest Sunn O))) tradition, this albums synth track. It’s weird, but I like it a lot.
Fried Eagle Mind is long, fizzy, bubbly midrange guitar improvisation, with Boris’ Wata on whispered vocals. It’s hypnotic and sort of aimless in a nice way. It also features some churning synth tones, and builds into harsh fuzzy noise at its climax.
Also included here, not on the original release, is the Black Sheep version of The Sinking Belle (incorrectly labelled on Bandcamp as “Back Sheep”), a sweet instrumental drone and violin version of the song.
Blood Swamp, which closes the main disc of the album is heavy with slow ambient percussion and experimental guitar tones. I saw this project live in London, and Atsuo was basically beating the crap out of a huge gong most of the way through this track. Some burly roadies had to hold the gong frame to prevent it from toppling. It was excellent. On record it’s less compelling.
Onward then to the bonus prelude disc (oddly placed at the end of the Bandcamp edition) bearing the palindromic and wholly àpropos subtitle “SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas”. Her Lips Were Wet With Venom is what happens when Boris fold themselves into the ranks of Sunn O))) proper. It’s appropriately denser for that. There’s a little lead part that quickly emerges from the fog and gets passed from guitarist to guitarist.
Then about ten minutes in, Dylan Carlson shows up to add his modern-era Earth melodic western guitar stylings. As the surrounding drone subsides slightly, his guitar rings out with beautiful clarity throughout this middle section. After that, we find ourselves back where we had just come from, and the track itself reveals its almost palindromic nature.
Oracle was originally an experimental EP featuring two unreleased tracks. Then on the 2CD tour edition, they added a whole extra live disc, just because. Now, I’m generally not a huge fan of Sunn O))) live records, because they usually fail to capture the live experience, and fall short of their carefully crafted studio work, but I’m beholden to giving it a listen.
In the meantime we’ll focus on the real meat here. Opener Belürol Pustít is, well, mental… Churning into life, like a great ancient machine God waking from slumber, we find a low organ-like drone hovering before the sub bass begins pulsing ominously. Attila enters with a snarly whisper, surrounded by quiet bell-like chimes.
And then, woah, is that a pneumatic drill? Yes, it literally is. And Attila is throat singing to it. This drill mutates and merges with drumming from Boris’ Atsuo to form part a clanking machine-like percussion section that drives the track to its conclusion. Attila’s vocals here are probably the closest representation yet recorded of his live performances with Sunn O))).
Orakulum is great huge meaty slab of Sunn O))), and is one of the greatest examples of that in their entire discography. Recorded by Mathias Schneeberger based on a work for an art installation by Banks Violette, the prime motivator here seems to have been to represent Sunn O))) at their most Sunn O)))-esque. More Attila and Atuso here.
The live track Helio)))Sophist is actually a carefully constructed collage of live actions in Europe in the summer of 2005, and I have to say, it’s one of the better live recordings to date. It seems to adequately capture the pulsating low-end, but leaves enough room in the mix for a full record’s worth of Attila’s outstanding vocal improvisations – which sound really incredible.
I actually think Oracle might be the best non-collaborative Sunn O))) release (until Monoliths & Dimensions).
Boop, Beep-Beep-Boop, Beep-Boop, Beep-Beep-Boop…
I am nearing the tail end of this stupid thing, I note with no remorse. Only nine actual records left to go. Next time, two diametrically opposed live records for you to torture the stereocilia of your basilar membrane with.