Thursday, November 09, 2006


SUNNO)))/BORIS - Altar 2CD (Southern Lord)
Could this be the MinuteFlag of 2006? What is a MinuteFlag? Other than being a collaborative EP from 1985 w/ both the Minutemen and Black Flag in the control room, if you check your Rocklapedia Britannica, you'll also see it listed as "a deeply disappointing joining of forces between two titans of the contemporary music scene". So, I'll ask the question again: is this the MinuteFlag of 2006? My answer is an unequivocal Yes and No. It disappoints, but not on a MinuteFlag level.

I don't have any particular beef w/ this recording. I'll swear on your life on the utter terrificness of every single SunnO))) release there is. They've taken what at first could appear to be a threadbare concept - let's call it "minimalist avant-doom" - and proved themselves, time and time again, to be one of the 21st century's best and most consistently adventurous and challenging bands. And then there's Japan's Boris. Friends of mine are much greater experts on their vast and eclectic recorded output than I, though two of the three recordings of theirs I own - Absolutego and Amplifier Worship - rock this world and the next. The third, Akuma No Uta, I'm not convinced holds the key to the kingdom.

So, I guess the assumption is this: put them in the studio together and you'll have a righteous combo of what makes both bands tick: SunnO)))'s guttural feedback and doom-laden weirdness crossing paths with Boris' slightly more rock-oriented aktion AT THE GATEW-A-A-A-YS OF HE-E-E-E-LL! Such moments are achieved, but for myself, the record never really gets kicking into overdrive until the 3rd track, "The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)". The opener, "Etna" is a near 10 minutes of Doomus Genericus Maximus - nice, but I've heard it all before - whilst the 2nd ditty, "N.L.T.", simply sounds like a leftover track from the last two SunnO))) albums. None of this is bad, mind you; just nothing to write home (or in a blog) about.

"The Sinking Belle...", on the other hand, it easily the most "pop"-oriented piece I've heard from either band and works perfectly for both. With whispered female vocals accosted by reverbed guitar and piano, it could possibly pass itself off as a pleasant piece of shoegazer "slow-core" (yes, it does hurt to use such a term, but a point must be made), though the context of the piece keeps it a distance from dangerous saccharine levels. Also mighty is the next number, "Akuma No Kuma", a glorious 8-minute rock dirge aided and abetted by that most excellent of instruments, the vocoder. With a swathe of keyboards (and even trombone) during the track's "battle scene", it reminds me of that absolutely ridiculously bombastic opening song on Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion LP, and if that statement means zip to you then I guess there's at least one more record you should buy in this lifetime. In short, it's an album highlight.

Rounding out the disc is the atmospheric and pleasant "Fried Eagle Mind", then the closer, the 14-minute somewhat industrial-sounding crawl of "Blood Swamp". Now I've stated all the facts and put them on the table, I've finally realised why I'm not blown away by Altar, and anything less than being "blown away" is a disappointment: a lot of it doesn't really sound like a collaboration. The atmospheric tracks sound like SunnO))); the rockier ones like Boris. Really, only in "The Sinking Belle...", "Akuma No Kuma" and parts of "Etna" do I truly hear two bands beating as one (you know what I mean). Is it a dud? Nope, not by a long shot. I'd still rather hear this on loop for a month than a second of most other music released this or any other year... but unless it proves to be a grower over the following months, I can't see myself revisiting it too often. Me, I'll stick w/ SunnO))) and Boris when they're performing and recording in separate rooms.

As a last note, I listed this as a 2CD, didn't I? The copy I have is the limited (5,000 copies! Sheez!) version w/ a bonus disc featuring one, 28-minute track, "SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas", a concoction of heavily-twanged guitar (that's Earth's Dylan Carlson) and thunderous doom which is so damn impressive they really should've cut some of the fat off the official album and included this instead. Lots of shit-hot guests abound, the packaging is worthy of an exhibition and just about every young hepcat on the planet probably owns this already, but for myself, I'm left w/ a decidedly lukewarm feeling.

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