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Nadja - Skin Turns to Glass

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Artist: Nadja

Album: Skin Turns to Glass

Label: The End

Review date: Jun. 4, 2008

As part of Nadja's continuing onslaught of releases, 2003's limited-edition CD-R Skin Turns to Glass reappears here "in a slightly different form," according to the liner notes. Apparently, bandleader Aidan Baker and current partner Leah Buckareff rearranged and re-recorded the songs, which were originally created by Baker solo. Mysteriously, the original three tracks, listed on the CD, are accompanied by a fourth untitled piece, a 29-minute ambient-drone excursion.

The influence of Neurosis has spawned many predictable bands that make what might be termed cinematic metal, but that lack the focus and power of the original. With Nadja, though, Aidan Baker has taken a particular, oblique approach over the years. Equal parts Neurosis and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it's difficult music to discuss without uttering hackneyed terms like "epic," "majestic," and "doom-laden." Nadja's drone-metal is ultimately all about loosely-structured texture, rather than melody or tightly-controlled changes. Take a normal metal song's breakdown, layer it several times, then slow and stretch it to 15 minutes, and you're approaching the feel of the music here.

Don't take that to mean, however, that these songs are completely lacking in melody. That's not the case. It's often buried beneath hazy distortion and layers of noise, but it's there, and it's often surprisingly uplifting. It's tempting, with this style, to turn to a predictable framework: begin quietly, then increase the density until the end. And indeed, "Sandskin" follows that pattern, from the album's initial slow, quiet throb until, at the three-minute mark, the drums make an appearance, along with a heavy, plodding bassline. The guitars take on a somewhat more riff-based structure, as noises and electronics fill every gap. It's like a pillow of sound smothering your head. The title track also has a comparatively pastoral beginning until, in a very Neurosis-like moment, a wall of guitar and buried vocals sweep in with symphonic grandeur. The heaviness and the plodding drums at the end bring to mind early Swans as well, but with a major-key twist.

After the unsubtle Skullflower-ish assault of "Slow Loss," the final untitled piece is a surprisingly sedate, quietly drifting ambient work, 29 minutes of back and forth tidal motion. Drums only appear 26 minutes in, when the song gradually expands into a cacophony of buzzing noises and rolling snare. While the first three pieces accompany each other smoothly, and make a strong 50-minute album, this final track feels a bit extra, and it might have been better as a separate EP.

By Mason Jones

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