sunn 0)))/Boris
"Altar"

(Southern Lord 2006)sunn 0)))/Boris - Altar

SunnO))) & Boris' "Altar" is an album of contrast: heavy vs. light, medieval vs. futuristic, vocal vs. instrumental, song vs. sound. The liner notes of this five song CD stress that this album was a collaboration, as opposed to a split album, between drone metal Earth-worshipers Sunn and Japanese sludge rockers Boris. It is, in fact a joint effort, however it seems that Sunn overpowered whatever influence Boris had on the album. Multiple guests also make an appearance, namely Kim Thayil (ex-Soundgarden), Jesse Sykes (Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter), Joe Preston (Earth/Melvins/High on Fire), as well as Dylan Carlson and Steve Moore from Earth.

After several minutes of "Earth 2" worship, snippets of a heavy riff eventually surface in the first track, "Etna," just in time to be counteracted by a wailing slide guitar conclusion. On the second track, "N.L.T.," fluttering speakers and what almost sounds like bowed cymbals set the stage for an aural journey somewhere, but at 3 minutes and 49 seconds, the track is barely long enough to let the listener's mind be taken to wherever it was Sunn/Boris was going with this one. Just as the trance begins, the trance is broken.

The first two tracks sound like a typical Sunn album, however, by the third song, "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)," piano joins the soundscape as lighter music slowly gallops across a dark plane and echoes with Jesse Sykes's breathy vocals singing solemnly for a song that almost sounds like Portishead doing country music. While "Etna," could have been intended for Earth 2, "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" sounds like something that could've been on Earth's "Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method" album.

"Akuma No Kuma" starts off sounding like a diesel locomotive idling on the other side of a brick wall. Next, vocoder like vocals bring back memories of "Radioactivity" era Kraftwerk as drums and a siren-like synthesizer comes in. Eventually this is broken up by stately horns and a gong, with drums recorded totally "in the red." "Akuma No Kuma" evokes pictures of a palace court decorated in the style of the movie "Tron." On "Fried Eagle Mind," ringing, phase-shifted guitars flutter and crackle on this very Sonic-Youth-like song (this could have been on "A Thousand Leaves"). The pleasing noise and breathy vocals pleading the listener to dream may induce a sleep not unlike what the evil queen/witch intended for Snow White.

Although Kim Thayil guests on guitar on "Blood Swamp," you won't hear signature riffs like on those Soundgarden songs "Outshined," "Rusty Cage," nor even "Forth of July." No Kim Thayil warbly amphetamine-wah solos either. The song follows the formula of the album, which seems to be the combination of low drones, high tones, and ambience-enhancing effects. More of the same takes the album out to the end. The reviewed copy of this album does not contain the bonus track featuring Dylan Carlson, "Her Lips Were Wet With Venom."

While some of the sounds contrasted on this album were fresh and original, other songs were just a long-winded rehashing of what has been done in drone/ambient music before. "Altar" might just have a couple of interesting songs for the casual listener, such as "the Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" and "Akuma No Kuma," but most likely it will only be enjoyed by true fans of Sunn and Boris.

C+

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