Sunn O))) and Ulver are two of the most important bands in experimental music of the last decade, with Sunn O)))’s drone metal redefining what it really means to be heavy in the 21st century, while the ever-changing Ulver, since abandoning their early black metal beginnings, have mixed their own style of electronics with a diverse mix of genres such as trip-hop, ambient and even classical chamber music over the years. With this shared penchant for experimentation, this collaboration just makes sense, and my excitement for this release was huge.
Let there be Light features Sunn O))) playing their trademark droney guitars, but not in their usual bludgeoningly heavy style, instead providing some dark and haunting textures as a base for Ulver to play off of. Their contribution continues in the vein of 2012’s Messe I.X-VI.X, with brass and string instruments played over the top, creating a sense of uneasiness and melancholy, the sound of the horns particularly adding to this. It would seem the title “Let there be Light” isn’t fitting at all, until near the end when slow drums come in over the top, and the brass instruments grow louder in the most epic of manners, while all the while the drones play on and on, and it hits you like the sun suddenly coming over the horizon over a dark landscape, illuminating everything around in a sea of light and brightness.
Western Horn brings back the sense of darkness. With rumbling monolithic bass tones, electronic weirdness, ambient guitar riffs drenched in delay, haunting string sections, brass instruments, and even sparse piano and drums, there’s a heck of a lot going on in this track. It takes several listens to fully appreciate, but it’s excellently complete, and despite it’s dark atmosphere, it almost feels serene at the same time – it fits in the dark ambient bracket rather well. It drones and rumbles darkly, but it’s also wonderfully beautiful and melancholic. It’s perhaps the best piece on the album, despite it’s short length.
The closing track “Eternal Return” is the most ambient track of the lot, with a lot of emphasis on the strings instruments over the rumbling bass, with Ulver’s trademark electronics coming in at the half way point along with Garm’s only vocals of the album delivering a dark and haunting performance, possibly his best one ever. It’s the longest piece on the album, and it has a beautiful atmosphere to it.
If there’s anything negative to say, it’s that its simply too short, clocking in at only 36 minutes. Sunn O))) have longer singular pieces of music in their catalogue, and there are so many great ideas, particularly on Western Horn, that they could have been fleshed out further over a longer playing time. However, despite it’s short length it doesn’t feel incomplete, and most good albums should leave you wanting more.
A lot of collaborations don’t seem to work, but like Sunn O)))’s earlier collaboration with Boris, this is incredible, with both artists gelling together well and delivering an excellently dark and melancholic release. This is a perfect follow up to both Ulver’s Messe I.X-VI.X, and Sunn O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions, and is an exciting, vibrant album which doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, taking it’s cues from Drone, Electonic, Dark Ambient and Chamber Music. Definitely not one to be missed by fans of either band, or experimental music in general.
Listen to Western Horn: