PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Nadja: Touched

On their second album for Alien8, this Toronto doom metal duo craft an abstract opus that's both hot and heavy.



Label: Alien8
US Release Date: 2007-03-13
UK Release Date: 2007-04-16

Many critics admire the primal mode of engagement that heavy metal encourages its listeners to adopt. The genre critiques rationalized modernity by reveling in irrational experiences -- violence, prejudice, extreme alienation -- during which the social self breaks down. Through theatrical and ritualistic performances, metal groups imbue the concert moment with a sense of aura -- a Sunn O))) show is an event that can't be mechanically reproduced. And metal fans adhere to a set of tribal mores in order to maintain a strong sense of subcultural identity.

But sexuality -- one of the most animalistic facets of human behavior -- is glaringly absent from most contemporary headbanging fodder. Mainstream hard rock still indulges misogynistic fantasies, but the stiffness and fussiness of the music that scores these fantasies saps such performances of their libidinousness. And by stripping their female objects of agency and motivation, cock rockers fail to construct realistic women, thereby adding yet another degree of sterility to their catcalls. Meanwhile, underground metal also traffics in idealized abstractions, favoring the language of religious, mystical, and science-fiction allegory, which allows characters and images to fully embody transcendent concepts such as good, evil, nature, or modernity. No room for boot knockin' here, either.

On Nadja's first widely released record, 2005's Truth Becomes Death, the Toronto-based doom rock duo of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff crafted the sort of dauntingly conceptual narrative that goes over swimmingly with the metal intelligentsia, adapting a medieval legend to ruminate on the perils of 21st century technology. With Touched, the group eschews mythic conceits in favor of brief, imagistic poems that meditate on sensuality and the intertwining of bodies. And what emerges isn’t just one of the best ever metal albums about sex -- Touched explores eros with a dignity and depth seldom heard in the pop world.

Nadja's willingness to present sensations that are seemingly anathema to those most often voiced in metal should come as no surprise to listeners who have kept track of even a fraction of the band’s formidable CD-R output. From their birth, Nadja have shown little interest in adhering to metal’s scripts. Their aesthetic -- a murky well of queasy low-end, cemented in tarpit guitar churn, and enshrined in an echo chamber of bleary feedback -- bears a stronger resemblance to that of Tim Hecker's tidal harsh-ambient compositions than that of Corrupted or Godflesh's similarly elephantine slogfests. Since most metal junkies demand that precision accompany brutality, Nadja's sound-world strikes many of these listeners as frustratingly indefinite. Their songs come across, in other words, as the only kind of music pretentious enough to unnerve someone who sees nothing absurd about Iron Maiden’s adaptation of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

But noise never feels accidental in Touched. The torrential screeching doesn't obscure the music, it colors it. Dainty flutes are audible amidst the furor; Nadja clearly exercise a painterly sense of restraint. And the record's architecture testifies further to this music’s resolute composition -- each song serves as an act in a dramatic narrative rife with suggestions of physical passion. Opener "Mutagen" is foreplay: this instrumental rides a simple, repetitive chord progression for fourteen minutes, riffs oozing with the escalating tension of a modal Miles Davis piece, teasing us with, but never yielding, denouement. Next, "Stays Demons" grinds more fiercely and purposively, a shimmering, high-pitched beam of feedback projecting an unattainable horizon to which the earth-moving guitar-march aspires. "Incubation/Metamorphosis" is more smeared and amorphous, a paean to the loss of time, space, and self that transpires in an engulfing embrace: "Your fingers stretch webs across / My skin, entwine and enclose, / And wrap me within sticky / Strands of silk -- the cocoon / Of your flesh". The subject eventually bursts "out of the ends of your fingers / Like a thousand blind larvae…", and he then pushes on towards climax in "Flowers of Flesh", which, with its drilling drum machine and Kevin Shields-esque field of treble, is at once the album's most punishing and most melodic song.

While both poetic and sonic sensuality pervade Touched, one could argue that all of Nadja’s screaming and bludgeoning precludes (for most of us, at least) the possibility of actually feeling turned on by listening to the record, making for yet another ultimately sexless metal record. There's some credibility to this argument -- Nadja do indeed celebrate sexuality through abstraction. But by lending a monsoon of charcoal-colored amplifier carnage the form of a sexual encounter, Baker and Buckareff don’t perform an act of Gnostic transubstantiation; they instead induce in us synaesthesic overload, conflating two sensory experiences. This abstract, rather than mimetic, representation of lovers’ pleasure demands that we approach Touched with careful ears and limber imaginations. And by attacking the groin through the gut, Nadja, like any good metal band, impress upon us with a sense of force and presence so often absent from postmodernity’s simulations.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.