Nadja Touched

[Alien8; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: prog-metal with hints of doom
Others: Isis, Jesu, Sunn 0)))

Somewhere in the world, a teenager plays Sunn 0)))’s White 2 on his stereo and mimics it on his guitar. He works at a burger joint to pay for effects pedals and takes notes on Within the Drone, a documentary on Earth's Dylan Carlson. In another decade, this guitar wizard will unleash a musical statement that transcends Sunn’s Zen guitar drones by delving deeper into La Monte Young’s aesthetics while retaining its metal heritage. For now, however, Sunn/Earth fans with an unquenchable desire for new drone metal compositions can sink their asses into been bag chairs, spark a jay, and listen to a legion of “lost classic” reissues, wannabes, and other Johnny-come-conveniently types that emerged in the wake of Stephen O’Malley’s breakthrough.

After a slew of CD-Rs, Nadja came out of the dark in 2005 with Truth Becomes Death (which I have never heard). Their second full-length, 2007’s Touched, proves listening to Truth Becomes Death would be a pointless endeavor, as a basic knowledge of their immediate predecessors, bands like Jesu and Isis, is all that is needed to nail their sound. While multi-instrumentalist and de facto leader Aidan Baker certainly showcases his talent on Touched, he also displays a lack of originality and a penchant for self-plagiarizing. Multiple boring stumbles taint moments on Touched, but nevertheless, it is an interesting listen for fans of progressive metal.

“Mutagen,” a tune that would not sound out of place on Isis’ Oceanic, begins with a cavernous riff. The band conjure a heady, threatening doom riff, but don't trust their riff enough to let it stand on its own. An underscore of noise and keyboards builds during the 14-minute dirge, eventually overtaking the riff. Isis applied the same method but with greater effect on tunes from their great 2001 album, Celestial. Here, Nadja lose faith in the power of the riff and rely on sound effects to keep the listener’s interest rather than on repetition, ultimately dooming the song.

Elsewhere, the shoegazing undertones on “Stays Demons” and “Flowers of Flesh” showcase the band’s diverse palate, but each track still falls short. Both are instrumentally very similar, with their respective riffs buried underneath an avalanche of icy keyboards above a prog-rock backdrop, while the bland vocals further mar the songs. “Stays Demons” sounds like Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate fronting My Bloody Valentine, Isis, and Phil Collins-era Genesis, as whispered black-metal vocals snake through “Flowers of Flesh,” attempting to work their way to the surface.

Promise glows through on “Incubation/Metamorphisis,” though Queensrÿche vocals once again halt the band’s progress. The 18-minute tune ventures through stark soundworlds, apocalyptic guitar riffs, and keyboard fills. The song builds thematically and contains some strong ideas, with a blistering apex coming from a high-volume melding of droning guitars, dark keyboards, and ringing feedback, sounding like a band being birthed from the mating of its influences.

Though not entirely original, Touched marks a shift in metal toward smart, progressive song structures and experimentation. Even if Nadja structured the album as a complete ripoff of Isis’ sound (which I doubt they did), it’s nice to see bands at least mimicking Isis and not Limp Bizkit.

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