Review: Nadja - Sky Burial (2010)
Upon first hearing Nadja about a year ago, there was one thing about their releases that jumped immediately out at me: this is a one of a kind act. Their penchant for extremely primal and slow, but incredibly linear build-ups and wind-downs in musical momentum, the expert handling of distortion and feedback as both an ornament and a melodic device, and most importantly, the incredible knack for crafting distorted guitar and bass tones that seem to fill up the entire room (or your entire head, if you're using headphones) and beyond (not to mention the sensitivity toward rhythm that getting those massive tones to fall into some sort of meter must require), cement releases like Touched and Desire in Uneasiness as some of my favorite records of the past few years.
Enter this 2010 release on. Sky Burial's first track, "Jaguar", is a near 19 minute ambient meander through deep-space bass rumble, swells of glassy, bell like echoes, the band's trademark thick, clipped static ornamentation, rotating distortion and distant snippets of conversational voices. The first 5 minutes of the track serve as a mellow introduction to forthcoming and much more foreground bass swells. By the 8 minute mark, slightly distorted bass and sparse feedback make the track extremely busy in terms of ambiance, but no rhythm or direction is yet present. Each sound source continues to build and layer until it reaches a typical Nadja density level at around 12 minutes, and drops the voices. The remainder of the track sees each part of the aural spectrum reaching a limit in volume and distortion, providing an oscillating heaviness well worth the band's name, and purifying into guitar/bass drone and feedback.
The second, and last, half of Sky Burial, titled likewise, answers the voids present in the first. Its insistent drum machine rhythm begins almost immediately, whipping some structure into the wandering feedback still present from the first track, and settling on a single bass note drone foundation. Nadja's signature thick-as-molasses rhythm notes begin around 2:15, while timed, melodic feedback soars well above and around the tightness of the rhythm section. This blueprint carries on for the next 5 minutes, invoking an expansive sway worthy of the album's title. The song really picks up around 7 minutes when a monolithic octave-based rhythm breakdown occurs, the meter goes double time, and a melodic flood of feedback-laden single notes takes over the upper registers. Around 14:20 some funky delay is added to parts of the drum track and from there the track slowly winds down to the chopping of the rhythm and a bit of phaser.
The best news about this release is that those who admire Nadja for their trademark elements - long builds and fades, universe-width distortion in the bass and guitar tones, and a supreme ability to evoke a mood of meditation and reverence will enjoy it quite a bit. All of the things that make this band a force of their own are present here, and upon the albums completion a sense of distance traveled and spatial altitude are certainly present. (In this case, you certainly can judge this album by it's title.)
While long-time Nadja fans will know exactly what to expect from this album, it goes without saying that it could easily become grating or (God forbid) uninteresting to those with no previous interest in the band or the drone/dream metal universe. The songs near 20 minutes each and require nearly half their span to really begin moving, which is a recurring theme, but not ubiquitous in Nadja's catalogue. If you are more of a fan of Touched, rather than, say, Desire in Uneasiness or Bodycage, you will probably find this disc tiresome if you don't have the 40 minutes to actively listen and absorb each layer and nuance. Other than the extremes in length, the only other complaint I have concerns the drum machine; it just isn't as convincing as it could be. The samples sound a little dated and considering the creative heights the bands drum section has reached on releases like Touched and tracks like Absorbed in You. I feel something is lacking when Sky Burial really begins to move, namely a better cymbal sound and a less dance-y overall timbre in the rhythm.
Overall, if you are a die-hard fan of this band, or simply want a sludge album to really mull over and chew on, Sky Burial will not disappoint you. Fans of the more primal and less ambient components of sludge and doom metal territory would do well to spend their listening time elsewhere.
Production - 7.5
Composition - 9
Originality - 9
Overall - 8.5