Najda: Numbness
Happy Prince

While I'm hardly the world's foremost authority on Nadja, Numbness strikes me as an indispensable addition to the Nadja discography. Somewhat of a mongrel collection, the seventy-one-minute release compiles six bruising tracks selected by the Toronto-based group's members, Aidan Baker (guitar, vocals, drums, piano, flute) and Leah Buckareff (bass, vocals, violin), from previously-issued limited-edition vinyl releases and compilation albums. The group pushes its usual “black metal” sound (some label it “ambient doom”) into shoegaze-styled territory in two tracks, “Long Dark Twenties” and the previously-unreleased “Alien In My Own Skin,” by adding surprisingly soft-spoken vocals to the guitar typhoon that otherwise rages (thereby suggesting a stylistic alliance between Nadja and My Bloody Valentine). The album is sequenced so that each track is slightly longer than the one before, such that the eight-minute opener, “Veil of Disillusion,” is ultimately dwarfed by the twenty-one-minute “Numb.”

“Veil of Disillusion” (originally issued on Crucial Bliss's 2004 compilation Shadows Infinitum) makes for a perfect introduction, with a slow-motion pulse beating at the center of a fuzz-toned roar. Nadja tears into “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (originally heard on Blod Records' 2004 compilation The Holiday Masterpieces) like zombies feasting on helpless victims, and the moment the familiar theme emerges from the hellish depths of a coal black swamp is but one of the album's many macabre pleasures. Almost wholly buried under an ocean of ambient noise in “Time Is Our Disease” (originally released on Infernal Procession, a three-way split with Atavist and Satori, by Cold Spring Records in 2008) is a ferociously charging rhythm track and orgiastic guitar choir. A hornet guitar swarm thunders through “Alien In My Own Skin” for twelve stupefying minutes but, as powerful as it is, the track pales in comparison to the album's apex, “Numb,” a monumental noise piece that almost obliterates its barely-audible guitar-bass-drums elements with a relentlessly seething blizzard. The surprisingly musical colossus can't help but tower over the others, if only on account of the sheer magnitude of its jaw-dropping force. It would be no exaggeration to say that Numbness is worth acquiring on the basis of the closing track alone.

August 2009