When you ask what Joe Public thinks about metal music, nine times out of ten they’ll think Satan, the occult and various other things straight out of a Hammer horror. Since the genre’s beginnings in the seventies there’s been another side to it. From those earliest records there’s been a strong interest in the world of science fiction, with its grand ideas and wild imagery making it perfect fodder for the bombastic music. From Blue Öyster Cult and Judas Priest to Nocturnus and Voivod, metal is littered with explorations of distant futures and close encounters.
On their latest album it’s the turn of Berlin-based experimentalists Nadja to dip their toes into the sci-fi pool. Luminous Rot explores the idea of a theoretical first contact between humanity and an extra-terrestrial species. Inspired by the likes of the Cixin Lui’s Three-Body Problem and Stanislaw Lem’s classic Solaris (later filmed by the legendary Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky), this isn’t a space opera, more a philosophical examination of the difficulties of communication with a truly alien intelligence.
Over the last 15 years, Nadja have made a name for themselves as one of the most interesting acts operating in the drone/post-metal world. With both members having a background in alternative and experimental music it’s no surprise that their sound draws on influences not usually touched on by the metal world. On Luminous Rot they take a step away from the longer form drone pieces that have characterised previous albums and instead embrace a more succinct song writing style. Produced by former Slint guitarist David Pajo, the 6 tracks on the album highlight the more post-punk influenced side of their sound, drawing on their love of Industrial, shoegaze and post-rock to create something that goes beyond any obvious genre tags.
While the three minute ‘Intro’ is a multi-layered drone/percussion exercise which will be familiar to fans of the bands, things really get interesting on the first proper song of the album, the title track. Based around clattering percussion and a repetitive bass riff, it’s a grimy slice of industrial blues, with Aiden Baker’s vocal channelling both Mark Lanegan and Al Jourgenson. ‘Cuts on Your Hands’ is perhaps the most traditionally Nadja track on the album (and at over twelve minutes the longest), and while they are not the only band to meld drone with the warmth of shoegaze, they are inarguably one of the best at it. ‘Starres’ is a more dissonant beast, utilising a repeating synth loop and a noise riff alongside sparingly used screams. The darker tone of the track recalls SUNN O))) and their work with Xasthur’s Malefic, though more indebted to the bleaker end of noise and power electronics than black metal. ‘Fruiting Bodies’ boast a riff that comes across like Sabbath on even heavier downers than usual, and the eerie layered vocals give it a ritualistic tone. The rollicking finale of ‘Dark Inclusions’ brings things to a head. With a propulsive bass riff that sounds almost goth and head nodding percussion it’s about as high energy as Nadja get and a fitting way to round off the record.
Luminous Rot is an album that benefits from repeat listens, the dense layers of noise and feedback concealing musical nuances that aren’t immediately obvious. Like the best high concept sci-fi, Luminous Rot draws you in and leaves an impression long after the last note has faded away.
Luminous Rot is out today via Southern Lord Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader