Mac McNeilly has a proven track record for taking the place of drum machines in metal bands. With the power and precision that he brings to the kit, it’s no wonder that once The Jesus Lizard brought him onboard for their full-length follow-up to their debut EP, they never looked back. Nadja, the Canadian ambient doom duo (not to be confused with Nadja the French Canadian R&B singer or Nadja the confessional poet) are one of the most prolific and adventurous outfits currently operating on metal’s bleeding edge. By all accounts, Dagdrøm ought to be the greatest team-up since peanut butter met jelly.
That’s not really the case, though. While Nadja’s catalogue spans many different styles (including a pretty wild covers album from 2009), they’re best known for their slow-motion avalanches of pummeling guitar. Dagdrøm maintains the heaviness and the deliberate pacing that’s become the group’s signature, but it attempts to corral them into shapes that are more conventionally “song-like.” While the album has a great sound to it, being composed almost entirely of fuzzed-out guitar licks with the density of a collapsing star, Nadja’s overall aesthetic doesn’t seem to translate that well to verse-chorus structures. What sounds hypnotic and mysterious on other releases has a tendency to become monotonous and repetitive here.
The 14-minute album closer “Space Time and Absence” is a perfect example of Dagdrøm’s promise and lost potential. Opening with an ominous guitar whine and McNeilly’s thunderous tribal beats, it gradually coalesces over the course of the first verse into the album’s most powerful riff during the refrain. Front man Aidan Baker’s hushed, shoegazy vocals provide a soothing counterpoint to the song’s hammering intensity. The band really cuts loose around the four-minute mark, locking into a crushing groove and then reining the behemoth in as the song slides into its spare, quiet bridge. Only the bridge is out; it doesn’t really lead anywhere. The last eight minutes of the song make the pretense of ramping back up, but never quite get it off the ground. Eventually, it just sort of trickles off.
Earlier this year, Nadja released a two-disc collection of rare vinyl releases titled Excisions. For as loose and seemingly formless as most of the contents of this compilation were, I was struck by how unique, exhilarating, and dramatic they were. That’s not really something I can say for Dagdrøm. Nadja’s sudden impulse towards coloring between the lines not only robs the group of its usual sense of awe and mystery, but also show how they aren’t willing to go all the way and give us the pyrotechnic payoff to reward our patient attention. The final product is an album marked by the unique signatures of its creators that ultimately fails to play to any of their strengths.