Review Summary: Nadja pull a few tricks from their sleeves to create the best album of their career.
For a while, Nadja's future seemed a tad uncertain. In their earlier years, they had always found ways to make their particular brand of ambient doomgaze drone metal fresh and exciting with each new album, ultimately culminating in two of their best releases in 2008: the blissfully calm Desire in Uneasiness
and the heartbreakingly emotive The Bungled & the Botched
. Then, in 2009, they started to go downhill. Their excellent contribution to a split with A Storm of Light and their phenomenal work on the Pyramids with Nadja
collaboration were undoubtedly impressive, but they were matched by a confused effort at a Times of Grace
-esque double album and an equally baffling cover album. But if they were inconsistent in 2009, then in 2010 they were downright disappointing. Autopergamene
, for example, tried to be fresh and exciting but came off as abrasive and off-putting instead. Granted, most of these disappointing albums were not bad, per se; in fact, they were quite intriguing, if only because Nadja was experimenting, as they should, trying to figure out what worked and what didn't. But for those two years, a tad too many of those efforts just didn't, and they begged the question, has Nadja lost their touch? Finally, over two years later, Dagdrøm
answered: Hell. No.
is undoubtedly a Nadja album, with its ethereal, swirling guitars and its plodding rhythms like an elephant traversing the savannah, the album also showcases several points of growth for the band. The most obvious change to Nadja's sound is the addition of live drums courtesy of Mac McNeilly of The Jesus Lizard. On previous albums, Nadja had used a drum machine, which worked well enough for their purposes, but McNeilly's drumming adds an entirely new dimension to the sound. The beats suddenly seem more natural, and as a result, so does the progression of the music as a whole. McNeilly also seems more comfortable experimenting and taking risks with the drum beats, resulting in one of the most interesting Nadja tracks to date, "Space Time & Absence," the opening beat of which would fit perfectly in an early Neurosis song.
However, Mac's contributions are far from the only change Nadja have made to their sound. Perhaps the best example of the new sound is the second track, "Falling Out of Your Head." The track begins, not with the trademark Nadja opening of ambient swirls of guitar feedback, but with a simple, intimate bass riff. The more dreamlike aspects of the music enter later, and the track (and the album) as a whole is still very dreamy, but as the bass riff demonstrates, the dream is now more vivid and more immediate, and ultimately it has much more of an impact on the listener. Nadja also, for perhaps the first time, shows a willingness to step outside their typical tempo boundaries--although it might be more accurate to say that they crash right through those boundaries. About halfway through "Falling Out of Your Head," the plodding-elephant beat suddenly transforms into a rhythm that rollicks along at the speed of a charging rhinoceros. The shift is so sudden and so unexpected that it is likely to fly right over the listener's head upon first hearing it.
is full of similar gems, risks and experiments that not only work, but work phenomenally. And ultimately, this album must have been what all the disappointments of 2009 and 2010 were leading up to. After all, the creative process is bound to be filled with missteps. But Nadja have done a great job of identifying those missteps, learning from them, and improving. Thus, Dagdrøm
sounds less like experimentation and much more like evolution.