Sunn0))) & Boris - Altar

Play their music quietly and what should be the sound of the gates of hell opening becomes that of a mis-firing vacuum cleaner

Sunn0))) & Boris - Altar


Ah, Sunn0))). I'm never quite sure what to make of them. Sometimes I find them portentous doom-mongers, and then at other times there is something about them (the cowls, the intensity) that makes me want to laugh. I don't think this is the reaction that one ought to have, but never mind. Still, on albums such as Black One there is at times a  lightness to the thick drones – think of a bowl of blancmange entering a black hole. Listening to them on record can't compete with hearing them live, of course, when the sound almost knocks you off your feet. Play their music quietly and what should be the sound of the gates of hell opening becomes that of a mis-firing vacuum cleaner. Still, nobody said it was easy being the leading purveyors of grindcore / sludgecore or whatever name the music of sunn0))) goes by.


Still, their collaboration with fellow label mates and noise-mongerers Boris will raise a few eyebrows. It starts off with Etna, and in a way that one might expect. Slow, dense swathes of ominous guitars bounce around before some free drumming joins in. The drumming nearly finds a rhythm but never actually does. The guitar drones continue, sometimes dark and menacing, at other times more hysterical and menacing. Always menacing. The second track comes and goes with something of a whimper before the main surprise of the album. The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep) opens with plangent guitar and piano. Slow, but almost tuneful, it also features singing from Jessie Sykes. Think of Mogwai on the slow bits – the sound is controlled, but the threat of an explosion is always there. It's a song you could play to the straightest of your indie friends and they wouldn't run away in terror. It even finishes with just the piano playing out the melancholy tune.


Akuma No Kuma returns us to drone-world – a deep drone is topped off by a manipulated voice. It sounds like something from an early Kraftwerk album slowed down and distorted. The voice, not the rest of it, you understand. And then there are drums, electronic whines and guitars. It sounds as though there is a brass band playing at one point. Whatever: it's bloody great and somehow manages to be thoroughly uplifting to boot. Fried Eagle Swamp is an almost ambient workout that I'm not convinced works; well, up until half way through, that is, when you begin to notice the drone that is slowly growing in the background. By the end (10 minutes or so) the noodly ambient noises are trying to battle it out with a huge shrieking howl of rage. They lose. Which brings us to album closer, Blood Swamp. It's a suitable way to end the album – a massive, sprawling guitar drone that fully justifies the collaboration. Hopefully they'll be working together again soon.


Words: Chris Dawson.