Keeping up with Canadian drone-metal duo Nadja isn’t impossible, but it does require a bit of effort. To say their catalog is massive is something of an understatement; the group’s Bandcamp page boasts 50 releases, and that’s realistically only about half of what they’ve issued since first forming in 2003, and that’s before we get into the solo and collaborative works of guitarist Aidan Baker. Yet, each of those 90-some-odd offerings from the group features a set of characteristics that are easy to identify when you hear them—programmed industrial-stomp percussion, hazy and soporific vocals, and massive layers of guitar. Just lots and lots and lots of guitar.
Often compared to the likes of Jesu or even Justin Broadrick’s other, considerably nastier industrial metal project, Godflesh, Nadja’s M.O. is exploring a balance of extremes—subtlety within grandeur, beauty within heaviness or aggression, grace within menace. But their pursuit within a particular discipline makes them more akin to a band like Lungfish, not in the sense that they share many musical similarities, but in that each new set of music feels like a refinement or a purification rather than a rebuilding. Yet they always find new ground to cover within that space, much like Sunn O))) or Big|Brave. With the release of Luminous Rot, their first for Southern Lord, Nadja now share the same homebase as those two groups as well, raising their well-cultivated metalgaze drone to greater prominence while honing in on the hypnotic sound they’ve been perfecting for nearly two decades.
The whole of Luminous Rot is caked in copious amounts of noise and distortion, but the overall effect is one less of abrasion or provocation than a kind of mesmerizing density. The title track lurches and chugs, and it carries a heaviness that extends beyond the more accessible shoegaze confines of Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, but the end result is similar, a sonic tapestry of harshness and grace that’s easy to become entangled inside. There’s a greater degree of space within “Cuts On Your Hands,” a slower moving dirge that sacrifices none of its crushing power, but leaves more room for openness and structural ellipses, as if any of its long-ringing chords might eventually drift into oblivion. Yet it’s in a song like “Starres” that provides Nadja’s most menacing and sinister sounds, its eerily throbbing bassline and Baker’s subtly horrific vocal approach driving its otherwise catchy melody toward some truly harrowing places.
The noise that envelops Nadja’s colossal drones becomes something of a living entity throughout Luminous Rot, its changing frequencies and evolving sound often providing a counterpoint to the repetitions that drive their melodic core. By the end of “Starres,” the noise rises and ebbs, peaking and retreating as the group stretches the tension as far as it’ll go. Which makes the catchy stoner-rock riff of the following song, “Fruiting Bodies,” all the more of a surprise. For a band that gets as much mileage as they do out of a very specific approach, it’s remarkable just how fruitful it ends up being, particularly on Luminous Rot. It feels like a landmark even amid a catalog as large as Nadja’s, less one of arrival or leveling up than simply making a good idea sound that much more overwhelming.
Label: Southern Lord
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.