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Altar

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Reviews

Average Rating
★★★★☆
(13 Reviews)

Metal Album Reviews[RSS]

  • This is my first foray into what is called drone-doom metal. Heck, this is my first Sunn O))) and Boris album as well. Before this, I had heard of Sunn O))) through many reviews of their works on various profiles on here at Amazon, especially through that of Lord Chimp (I highly recommend for the reader of this to read all of his reviews, their great and very insightful). As for Boris, I had heard of even less. So, back to this album. Well, I was traversing my local FYE one day and came upon this particular album; in fact, I was amazed that FYE even had any of their stuff. So I finally got it and to my surprise, especially after never listening to anything from both bands, I liked it. It was at the time the most dark and even dare I say it, scary piece of music that I had listen to up till then. Before I continue, I must get this out of the way, this is not a split CD, but a collaboration between the two bands. Anyway, as I was saying, this is a dark CD. It’s also slow and a most tracks are over the seven minute mark, with a few over nine minutes. Also, there is very little singing. The only track that uses singing is “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep), which features Jesse Skyes singing. In fact, I believe that’s the lightest track on the entire album. As for the rest of the musicianship, the guys and gal from Sunn O))) and Boris (and including others) are all spot on. It’s kind of hard to actually describe this music, especially if one has actually never listened to this style before (as I was far from sure to what to expect from listening to this for the first time). The thing I like most about this album, is probably Atsuo’s drumming. It really adds and even magnifies the dark atmosphere that is created by the other musicians. Also, I couldn’t but help here some post rock and even a little psychedelic rock throne into the mix. Well, all I can say is this serves as an excellent introduction, more or less, to those curious to either band. Since I’ve listened to this album, I’ve continued to purchase other works from Sunn O))). Though the thing about their other CD’s is that they the tracks are way longer than those found on here (some reaching over thirty minutes) and that their other stuff is even darker than this. I also like the album artwork. It fits the music totally. But anyway, if you like long, slow, and atmospheric music, and are curious about the two bands, or just want to listen to something completely different, then I recommend this to you.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Boris and Sunn0))): their fan bases seem to overlap on opinions so often that it’s a shame they’ve not collaborated before this. So who comes out sounding more apparent than the other?

    Well, I guess it depends on who you ask, but the record is definitely reminiscent of both groups sounds. “Etna” begins the album with an abrasive lo-fi drone, and the end hears Atsuo slowly destroying his drums as he is so well known for (a là Amplifier Worship). The second track, “N.L.T.” sees more influence from Sunn, I think, and seems to be the slowing down of the previous track. With “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep),” it’s all Boris–well, maybe if Wata was on vocals more often–and is probably the black sheep (hah!) of the lot. This track is as slow as the rest, but is very different in that it is vocalized by (gasp) Jesse Sykes, and holds no drone, but instead opts to give us a very waltz-like trance of just a few guitar chords and piano arpeggios. “Akuma No Kuma” and “Fried Eagle Swamp” really pick things up again (so much so that they seem to put the previous track out of place) and dive back into what we think of when we think of these two groups.

    More of Atsuo’s drumming takes the spotlight on the former track, and the latter has Sunn taking things over again, in a way they did with their set of White recordings.

    The last track, “Blood Swamp”, is the longest of all (nearly fifteen minutes), and probably the best. While it’s more Sunn than Boris (and I do dislike Sunn on most occasions), it’s exactly what my mind creates when I think of these two artists playing side by side. It’s dark, incredibly slow, menacing–and all other five dollar adjectives you could apply to both these masters of sludge. While Altar is not as good as it could have been, it’s still very good when it does work, and is a must have for any fan of either group (or any of the ten plus other musicians who helped create it).

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • This album is an experience not to be missed. If you do not have access to a butt-kicking stereo, then save your money and see them live. The experience does not translate to mp3/iPod.

    The songs are generally slow-moving soundscapes painted with the textures of saturated tube distortion, analog synth and improvised drums. It is not, however an ambient album, nor soundtrack-like noodling, nor heavy metal novelty. The album has a classical arch structure, and the compositions themselves have all the elements of carefully composed “art music”. Transcendent.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • It was inevitable really. The Japanese masters of Orange Amp-powered drone-sludge and the robed priests of low end doom. How could it not happen? In fact, if you remember the 2005 April Fool’s AQ list, we actually jokingly predicted this epochal event! Although in our version it also included Earth, each band playing one note of the world’s heaviest E chord.

    The real question was never IF it would happen, it was when. And how. Especially how. C’mon, how on earth can you fit that many amps in a recording studio. They must have used an airplane hanger, either that or they filled a high school gymnasium with Sunn and Orange stacks and microphones, and actually played in an entirely different room.
    Regardless, it happened, and it sounds as good as you might imagine. Both bands completely compliment each other. SUNNO))), whose slow motion riffing borders on pure ambience, is given a serious propulsive shove, with more structured riffing and the addition of DRUMS!!! Boris get dragged back into the gloriously glacial tarpit of their older records, discarding their current garage rock rrrooooaaar for that classic slow motion doom trudge. However you look at it, it’s basically the best record either band has put out. It’s like an EVEN heavier SUNNO))), with bigger riffs and pulverizing doom rock drums, and of course wailing psychedelic leads. For Boris, they’ve taken their blown out grooves and dipped them in tar, added a million more pounds of guitar firepower and made the best Boris record since Flood.

    But it’s not all pulverizing doom riffage. There’s plenty of dark droning ambience too. Huge stretches of swirling guitar rumble, dreamy swaths of wispy steel string shimmer. Murky and haunting, processed vocals and minor key melodies swimming in a black sea of echoey ambient guitars and sizzling cymbal shimmer. The strangest track is probably “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)”, sort of the Boris / SUNNO))) version of a torch song, with FX smeared piano, strange buried rhythms, and hushed vocals, like a doom metal Mazzy Star.

    The closer “Bloodswamp” is 14 minutes of churning downtuned guitars and shimmering Sunroof! like ambience. No riffs really, or if they are there, they’re stretched into thick streaks of black fuzz. A furiously epic coda to a f-cking amazing record.

    The first 5000 copies come with a bonus disc titled SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas (a nod to Soundgarden there?) that features a single 28 minute track called “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom” guest starring Dylan Carlson from Earth! Before we go any further… are you thinking what we’re thinking… April Fools? SUNNO))) and Boris And Earth!!! And I bet you at least some of the bonus track is in E!! Boy, did we call it. And actually Atsuo from Boris confided in a friend of AQ that indeed, part of the reason they got Dylan to guest was because of that April Fool’s review! How cool is that?!?

    Anyway, the bonus track is a monstrous wall of churning guitars, with occasional howled almost death metal vocals buried way down in the mix, and languorous Earth Hex-like twang guitar draped lazily above a churning blackhole ambience. So good.
    Besides Dylan Carlson of Earth, there are lots of other guest performers including Jesse Sykes, Joe Preston from Thrones (also ex-Melvins, ex-Earth), Kim Thayil from Soundgarden (aha) and Rex Ritter from Jessamine.

    Packaged beautifully in a mini cd style gatefold, with AMAZING cover art, black on black with weird muted color and text printed in glossy varnish and metallic gold, both bands be-robed and standing in a cornfield, a full color booklet attached to the inside, a metallic sticker on the front, each copy individually numbered.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • First of all, don’t buy this album unless you are fully prepared to sit down and actually listen to it. This is not ambient background music in any form; this new masterpiece from Southern Lord is carefully constructed to envelop the listener within its layers of sound. Also remember that this album has been made to listen to at high volumes on a quality stereo, or on high-quality earphones. This album is flawless in my opinion, and has been released with a measure of artistic vision and care that says much about the aims of the two respective bands.

    “Altar” is a very appropriate title for the work, as every track within the album oozes with reverence for the Almighty Sound Wave. With each movement within each track, a new depth unveils itself with a unique personality. There seem to be distinct tones and methods of delivery for each member within this collaborative project.

    The first track, “Etna” is a behemoth of a song, that while carrying an extremely dark, crushing overtone to its construction still manages to sound empowering in some way, or motivational. It begins with what sound like layers of distorted bass cellos and other strings, and then intensifies with the arrival of Anderson and O’Malley’s droning guitars and a dynamic drum solo by Atsuo, the conclusion of which kicks off a mind-blowing, doom-emanating riff with Wata’s errie, wailing guitars providing a startling high-end to a very deep track. “Etna” concludes with a minute or two of intense guitar feedback, before slicing off and entering the second “track”.

    “N.L.T” seems to be an afterthought to “Etna”, if you were to view the album as a whole from a narrative sense. It begins with a droning bowed upright bass impossibly down-tuned, and proceeds through the song with layers of similar sound without any major alterations in the song structure. There are drums on this track, but they are hardly used to keep any sort of time. They are a succession of rapid cymbal and gong rolls that seem to move from back to front. The entire track gives off a very natural, acoustic vibe, but still manages to be as intense as “Etna” is. The song heavily suggests downward motion to me, as through the listener is being drawn into the depths of some endless chasm by the sheer will of Sound.

    “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)” is a disarmingly relaxing track that smoothes off the tension and intensity of the previous two songs, marking a midway-point in the album. It is composed of dreamy, reverb-laden clean guitars and quiet, careful drumming. Accentuating the framework of the song are atmospheric “space-echo” guitars and piano. This is the first track on the album to feature vocals, which are near-whispered with a trembling quality by folk-singer Jesse Sykes. The relaxed, more conventional feel of “Belle” may seem a bit out of place in the album as a whole, but it is made in a way that seems natural doesn’t break the continuity of the album’s progression.

    “Akuma no Kuma” revisits the triumphant approach that “Etna” opens the album with, featuring epic synth, bass and guitars that seem to be configured with a rolling-modulation, and contains an almost bombastic feel, the sensation of which is increased by the emergence of electronic horns which recall a stereotypical old-Hollywood ancient-Rome feel to them. The voice of Joe Preston of Thrones, Earth and High on Fire fame is featured on this track, his vocals translated through a vocoder synthesized to match the modulation of the synth and guitars that make up the body of the song. The song’s force and intensity rises as it progresses, and by the track’s end basically becomes the sonic equivalent of smoking Salvia.

    “Fried Eagle Mind” is a drifting, unsettling track that is mostly composed of “trippy” clean guitars, ambience and softly-sung vocals by Wata, and is very unnerving for me to listen to. Where “Akuma” seems to be intended to excite and inspire the listener, “Mind” lulls the listener into a coma filled with the primal images of the sleeping mind as Wata atonally whispers “soft clouds… dream… sleep…”, before eventually dissolving into a chaotic static soup of cavernous noise.

    The final track on “Altar” is called “Blood Swamp”, and features Kim Thayil of Soundgarden on guitar. “Swamp” is extremely heavy and dense in its sound, and is a roaring, unrepentant drone track with ambient overtones that is easily the most foreboding song on the album. The song sounds as though it is emanating from deep underwater, and concludes the overall experience of the album by smashing your brains and eardrums to a pulp.

    I wholly believe that this album was created with the intention of being experienced, as opposed to just listened to. Southern Lord’s releases generally have a strong visual element to them, and Altar is among their finest in this respect. The limited edition release available from SL’s website includes a gatefold case with a ten-page booklet containing photographs of the two bands in black robes standing in a cornfield. Sprinkled among those are shots of cave complexes, black monoliths and some Escher-esque artwork. Additionally this version of the album includes a second disk which contains a 8-minute long drone track entitled “Her Lips Were Wet with Venom” featuring the legendary Dylan Carson of Earth doing some guitar work similar to his recent Earth release “Hex”.

    This is a true synthesis between two amazing projects, and it has certainly been worth my time to sit down, kill the lights, put on headphones and absorb the Altar.

    Posted on December 21, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now