Drone duo Nadja have been around for fifteen years now and have a staggering seventy two releases under their belt, if you add all their splits, EPs and collaborations to their 23 full length releases. I’ve heard many (not all) of these, however only two ever stuck with me – their collaboration with the excellent Pyramids, and the album Thaumogenesis, the subject of this review, released back in 2007. Thaumogenesis combines their usual drone-doom metal with ambient and shoegaze, and with one sixty two minute track they’ve released an album that’s as beautiful as it is heavy, and ten years on still sounds fresh and unique.
The track’s first few minutes follow the evolution of a soft and pleasant ambient synth texture as acoustic picking and glitchy electronics slowly introduce themselves, creating a standard relaxed ambient atmosphere. One could see them playing this sound for the full hour, subtly introducing different textures and chord changes in a minimalist folky ambient release -until five and a half minutes the guitar comes crashing in with a huge distorted tone amid clashes of cymbals and noisy electronics. But far from ugly brute-force droning-doom metal, the guitar, while heavily distorted, shimmers with melodic vitality and energy, clearly loaded with enough effects pedals to make Kevin Shields blush, textures splintering off in all directions. With soft palatial synths and very quiet distorted vocals low in the mix among a louder cloud of gloomy bass, electronic noise, crashing drums and the aforementioned guitars there’s a wide range of sounds to feast the ears on. It all moves very slowly, but rather than sounding like it’s plodding along, it emerges forward powerfully, majestically and beautifully. About twenty minutes in it all recedes back into the floating glitchy ambience from the start with distorted guitar coming in and out, giving some release from the swell of sounds, building the shoegazy effects and layers back up over the next ten minutes into a gorgeous wall of sounds, noisy textures gliding through each over in a lovely mass of glissandi. At thirty five minutes the huge sound they’ve built mostly recedes again left with a simplistic riff repeating over and over, a few chugged notes followed by a higher pitched wail of guitar, lifting the heavy tension before it crashes down, over and over. This is the one part of the album where it does start to grate, this riff growing dull well before it shifts five minutes later into a similar riff with just two chugs and a few bars break before two more chugs. At the forty eight minutes mark it returns to the ambience and acoustic from the start, and then for the rest of the track builds into one last wall of sonic brilliance. Unfortunately at the 62 minute mark it just comes to a sudden end that’s a little unsatisfying, building up an atmosphere over minutes and minutes to just have it fade into a bass riff then fade out entirely. A shame but not enough that it mars the great work across the release.
Thaumogenesis is an interesting piece of sound art and experimentation, and when it really hits it’s stride with layers and layers of sound combining into one gorgeous wall of noise it’s experimental music at it’s best. As mentioned it does drag a bit in the middle, but the rest of the album is intriguing and brilliant. One could put nods to Sunn O))), My Bloody Valentine and The Angelic Process but rather than a mix of the three it’s really more of their own thing with the shifting of pacing and sounds not found so frequently in those other acts. One could describe Thaumogenesis as the most beautiful drone-doom album, the heaviest shoegaze album, or somewhere in between.