Given that Altar, a collaboration between Japanese rock geniuses Boris and American drone gods Sunn O))), was released in the October of 2006, it is not exactly fresh news as far as music goes. The album was a critical success, fans enjoyed it, and both groups toured the world together, performing their monstrosity in front of awestruck onlookers. With Boris set to release their first full-length studio album since their 2005 hit, Pink within a month’s time, I would do well to speculate upon what the future holds rather than look back upon a work that is already more than a year old. However, I’ve only acquired a physical copy of Altar recently: a beautifully-packaged limited edition reissue of the album, spread over 3 LPs that feature photographs of the group performing live on the surface of the vinyl, to be more specific. Needless to say, such a purchase warrants a very late review.

Information

Altar
Title: Altar
Artist: Sunn O))) & Boris
Label: Southern Lord
Catalogue Number: SUNN62
Release Date: December 10, 2007
Price: $37.00 [Sold out]
Genre: Drone, Doom, Experimental
Tracklisting:

  • A1 – “Etna”
  • B1 – “N.L.T.”
  • B2 – “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)”
  • C1 – “Akuma No Kuma”
  • C2 – ” Fried Eagle Mind”
  • D1 – “Blood Swamp”
  • E1 – “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom (Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas)”
  • F1 – “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom (Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas) (Continued)”

Packaging

In less than three days after ordering it from Southern Lord’s website, Altar was in my giddy little hands. The shrinkwrapping had a little sticker mentioning that the pressing was limited to only 500 copies, but this was incorrect; there were actually 551 packages available. Despite this limited quantity, I was disappointed to realize that there was no cute individual numbering gimmick for this release. I really wanted to be able to say stuff like “Yeah man, I have number 376.” in conversations with other fans. Oh well. Sadly, my copy was also slightly damaged in the shipping process. It had a bent corner and the edges of the LP sleeves were slightly frayed. Luckily, it did not suffer any major forms of hurt.

The package is just as heavy as the music on the records, containing not only three LPs, but a built-in booklet, which features large, glossy photographs of frightening caves, artistic photos of the band members standing in a corn field, and some forward notes, among other things. I only own about twenty albums on vinyl, many of which are cheap old ones from the seventies, which makes Altar the most intricate and full LP in my collection as far as packaging goes. It looks wonderful and stands out as a collector’s piece on the shelf.

What makes this version of Altar truly unique, however, are the records themselves, which feature striking photographs of the members of Sunn and Boris performing live in concert. I’ve heard of picture discs before, but I’ve never owned any until now. It is nothing amazing, but spinning one these is much more fun than watching a black LP rotate. With the complaints about damage aside, I am extremely pleased with the presentation of this release.

Music

Altar is somewhat of a musical surprise. When I first heard news about the collaboration between Boris and Sunn O))), I was excited to hear the sounds of both of these great bands come together. Altar is not simply a merging of two sounds, however. Instead, both groups have focused on creating something entirely different from their past work, with astounding results. It is best to approach Altar not as a meeting between two rock giants, but as the output of one collective of artists, whose members extend beyond the ranks of Sunn and Boris.

The album begins with “Etna” which is appropriately asskicking. Beginning with some droning and a drum solo by Atsuo, the song quickly moves into extended crushing riffage. The opener leads into “N.L.T.,” which is a more subdued ambient piece consisting of light cymbal percussion and bass. The final song on the first LP is “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep),” a beautiful tune that features guest vocalist Jesse Sykes. With the heartfelt singing and the piano work, at this point it becomes very clear that Altar is atypical as far as Boris and Sunn material goes.

The next installment of Altar explodes with “Akuma no Kuma” (which according to the liner notes is Japanese for “Evil Bear”). This bizarre psychedelic meltdown of a song is the high point of the album, making use of an obscene amount of synthesizers, heavily-distorted vocals, and even a trombone. Things finally wind down a bit with “Fried Eagle Mind”. This noisy and spacey piece features the hypnotic vocals of Wata, which lull the listener into a trance before cutting off abruptly. The final song on the second record is “Blood Swamp”, which is an enjoyable droney listen. Altar‘s midsection is a powerful example of the creativity between these two bands and the other musicians that they have employed for this recording.

The side-hopping “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom (Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas)” brings this album to a close on an epic note. Playing upon the concept of palindromes, this 28 minute piece features instrumental solo spots that act as bookends over a sea of heavy droning. While this song was not included on the original CD-issue of Altar, it serves as an excellent addition to the work as a whole. It is certainly not just some “bonus track”.

Overall

Altar is what its title implies: a monument. This collaboration showcases the talent of two of the most unique and prolific bands in metal today, and this wonderfully put-together package does this musical masterpiece complete justice. The picture LP version is unfortunately sold out already, but there are still remaining copies of the purple LP edition, as well as the double CD version (which includes “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom”) in Southern Lord’s online store. Try to pick this release up in whatever format possible.

Score

★★★★

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