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Here we have yet another full-length release from the incredibly prolific and visionary duo known as Njiqahdda. The project continues to astound me by releasing album after album of brilliant and mind-warping artistic madness. This specific release finds the duo releasing its first (and hopefully many more to come) real CD release (not CDr). Labels should take note of this band for they are truly on their way to becoming one of the most important and brightest lights in the underground scene. Much like the bulk of albums released before this, I have no real idea how to say the album title; so from here on in the album will be referred to as NNN...
NNN presents 4 extremely long playing tracks, in fact these 4 tracks end up lasting a bit over 72 minutes. The shortest track lasting somewhere around 14 - 15 minutes in length. Everything about this album presentation is fully realized, from the song writing, to the artwork, to the album's production. First let me say that the artwork is some of the most beautiful and abstract art to ever grace a black metal record. Kudos to Pagan Flames for choosing to release this as a digipack, as the format is simply stunning and complimentary to the recorded works inside. Secondly, I must acknowledge the amazing production quality of this recording. Not amazing in a super-polished and clean sound, but amazing in an incredibly dense and layered way. Each instrument is clearly heard amidst the fuzz, buzz and jangle. The bass guitar on this album is very upfront and clearly heard (unlike 95% of black metal recordings) and I could not imagine the album without it. The ethereal bass work adds such interesting texture and boundless melody that weaves in and out of the guitar and drum work, which is incredibly refreshing to these ears. Now onto the music itself...
I usually care not to dissect an album track for track, but since there are only 4 tracks on this album, I think I will let this general rule pass over. The album begins with the oddly aggressive, down tuned dirge of 'Nortii Maatu'. I remember first hearing this song when I picked up the super-limited single that was released for it. The production has changed a bit on the album version (as opposed to the single) but in a good way. The drums have been pushed back into the mix considerably, which allows the stringed instruments to breathe a bit more and envelope the space created by the melody. The doomy dirge of the track continues for a bulk of the song, fluctuating between down tuned depressive aggression and almost Drudkh-esque open chord melodic tinges. These parts then break open for some whirling and psychedelic guitar breaks that howl and soar over the rest of the track, which leads into an incredibly minimal but beautifully chosen guitar solo. Much like some of the solos found in earlier Burzum works, absolutely compliments the song perfectly. From here the song breaks into a down strummed clean guitar melody that is nothing short of magical, with the brilliant bass playing, drums and vocals all kicking back in to finish the song up just under 16 minutes. This is one hell of a way to open an album and much like the rest of the release, does not disappoint.
The second track 'Aasklamatii Ligmett Aursag' opens with a very jam-band like feel with the bass and drums playing the role of call and receive. A super distorted guitar comes in and then track blasts off with a very melodic, almost post-rock feel. The down picked guitar melody is complimented by the ambitious bass work and amazing drumming (which time and time again, the band claim that a drum machine is not utilized, but in fact an electronic drum kit) that is very fluid and life like with lots of little fills and rolls all over the place. This post-rock section continues for a bit until the amazing blast of (once again) Drudkh-like melodies pop in and create another feeling of otherworldly atmospheric chaos. The instrument work for the section is beautiful, with all of the stringed instruments complimenting each other perfectly, while the drums and vocals spazz out and bathe the song in an inalienable glory.
From here the track moves into an almost hopeful sounding section with gives a nice contrast from the more desolate section that had just passed. During this movement the bass is rolling and bouncing all over the melody, adding a thick layer of blackened sludge. Another very post-rock feel is employed next in the riff structure, which sounds as a very natural progression to the track. This continues until the end, when the drum and bass improv section of the beginning of the track comes back in to close out the song. Another simply amazing song in every aspect.
The third track 'Sigmaatiiolaa' now comes through the speakers, starting off with a very desolate and introspective guitar riff. The riff is one again sounding oddly Drudkh inspired, lightly distorted and all out beautiful. From here the dirge of the bass guitar slowly fades in, as well as some soaring keyboard sounds. The keys on this track really compliment the melodies very much, in a very simple and textural way. So far this song is sounding the most black metal of the album, mostly in the song arrangement, riff patterns and drum work. Double sticked ride cymbal work bounces between double bass hi-hat battery. Then an absolutely beautiful riff emanates from the song that literally sends chills down my spine in an incredibly magical way. Once again the keys are soaring over the track, which create an almost dreamy texture to the song. The melodies in this song are absolutely stunning in every way. Each part is played with absolute perfection, which culminates in a frighteningly emotional experience. This track truly deserves the title of epic. The build-up throughout the song is so intense that when the climax is reached and the song ends...That you cannot help but almost want to beg for more. I think this song alone could have gone on another 17 minutes and I would not have been happier. Mouth gapingly amazing, possibly one of the best tracks ever created by Njiqahdda or maybe in the world of post-black metal, period.
Hard to believe this album is already at the final track and almost an hour in. The time floats by when immersing yourself in this recording, like all truly amazing works, you cannot help but find yourself completely enveloped within. The final and longest running track of the album 'Urmae Copistrum Xaaqa Qahdda' opens with a somber, jangley, almost depressive country-like feel to the guitars. This opening riff is easily one of the most melancholic of the record, but absolutely beautiful in its own right. The drums and bass then kick in, creating a super lock-tight groove of epic proportions. From here an anguished, effects laden growl comes screeching into the mix. This clean guitar section continues until about the 2:30 point, when a mountain of distorted guitars and double kick drums come rolling in, much like an ominous black cloud hovering above in the once blue sky. A decidedly post-rock styled jam progresses for a bit, with the guitars and bass locked in tight while the almost mathy drum patterns and howled vocals roar throughout. A down tuned 'heavy' part comes forth, while the bass bounces back and forth and from there a super atmospheric guitar solo comes floating through. Much like the solo in the opening track, the solo is quite minimal and used more for texture, but the solo creates a soaring feeling to the section, much like the keyboards of the previous track. Another 'heavy' sounding down picked part appears in post-rock fashion, once again while the bass is adding much more melody to the riff than expected. The track then winds down into a clean guitar trudging through in a very hypnotic fashion. Then the drums ring out with a commanding kick drum and crash hit while the guitar continues to reverberate in the foreground. This continues until the bass, vocals and drums kick back in to create a very solid groove, much like in the beginning of the song. Then once again a super spaced-out guitar comes floating into the mix, giving the section a very dreamy, magical feel to it. This all continues until the drums drop out and all the stringed instruments fade away back into oblivion...
A fitting end to one of my personal favorite albums of 2008. Njiqahdda pulled out all the stops on this release to create something wholly unique and singular in the underground scene. An album that ebbs, flows, shifts and progresses in so many ways it is frightening. The stylistic shifts in this recording are nothing short of astonishing as well; granted there is a great deal of flirtation with almost rock-ish song writing, this is far and beyond anything you would ever hear in the mainstream world. This is truly a metal album in every sense of the word. Njiqahdda continues to create music for themselves, to expand, to dream and reach worlds untouched by those who came before them. This is one of the best post-black metal albums ever recorded and one of the most outstanding in the ever-expanding Njiqahdda catalog. I personally would not change one single thing about this album (well...maybe expand it to a 2-disc, but that is just my opinion) and would/will highly recommend it to anyone into unique experimental metal music. Outstanding is not a descriptive enough word for this album. Do yourself a favor and check it out immediately...
You wonder why an act like Njiqahdda would give an album a title more descriptive of the noises made by a straining pig stuck tight in a hole in a fence than of four long tracks of mostly intsrumental ambient BM with a garage rock feel and rock or post-rock influences. Like another Njiqahdda album released in 2008 ("Mal Esk Varii Aan"), the music tends to have strong melodies that more or less repeat with some variation throughout their respective tracks. Also the vocals tend to be another element within the musical package rather than stand apart, rising from within the noise and creating a distinct turbulence that suggests malevolence and desolation before fading back in the way of ghosts and shadows. As the tracks here are all at least 15 minutes long and more, you'd expect some definite progression towards a climax or series of climaxes or something equivalent, at least some kind of resolution of tension, and though the music does work up to something resembling a resolution, it tends to deflate before something can be achieved with the result that sometimes the music can keep going around and around in trapped circles (or so it seems to me) and anything achieved doesn't come across as very satisfying.
"Nortii Maatu" has a very strong though plodding motif that continues throughout the piece save for breaks in the bass-dominated rhythm. In spite of a shrill howling lead guitar (the best thing about the track) in the middle of the song and the harsh desert-eddy voices sweeping through like scouring winds, there's not much of a distinct desolate atmosphere that would enhance the music and turn it into potential imaginary-film soundtrack material. The second track (I won't try to pronounce its name) has a much stronger, more Western-bluesy strummy melody with a martial drumming pattern and more turbulent ghost voices that provide background. The melody does change a lot so that helps to maintain listener interest in an 18-minute that's barebones raw guitar, drums and swirling voices plus a lot of clean space within the track - here is Njiqahdda at perhaps its most spaghetti-Western-rockified. Towards the end the vocals become tricked up and turn into withered-leaf electronic scraps flying helplessly around the peripheries of the music.
"Sigmaatiiolaa" has a more dramatic, even heroic feel thanks to the addition of keyboards to the bass guitar and drums and these three concentrating on an absurdly basic repetitive melody that changes every so often while those washed-out vocal effects rage in the background. I keep expecting the music to settle into a particular strummy coast-along kind of groove but the music insists on being mountain-climbing difficult and repetitive to the point of boredom. A release of tension occurs in the middle of the track and then it follows a different course and somehow the whole piece ends up sounding quite full and complete (or at least more realised than "Nortii Maatu" to my ears).
Final track ("Urmae Copistrum Xaaqa Qahdda" because the 21-minute length deserves the full title and I shouldn't be lazy) is a marathon starting with a countrified strumming motif and a half-voice / half-effects vocal accompaniment which both burst forth into a very raw, garage rock flow that's all hard guitar tones, steady drumming, bass guitar occasionally following its own path and lofty lead guitar soaring to the heavens. Just before the 10th minute the track settles into a particular groove that involved a regular pattern of key changes that gives the music a peculiar retro-late 1960's psychedelic pop rock feel. From the 13th minute on the music pauses and then starts to build up gradually again with creepy voices and a shrill lead guitar streaming across a bright sky - not much of a climax occurs though, just a gentle let-down as the lead guitar commands attention and the other instruments lose force gradually.
This is a hard-edged, hard-bitten, rock-oriented Njiqahdda with more emphasis on a harsh raw sound and a post-rock feel and less on creating atmospheric self-contained sonic desert worlds of strange alien colours and dangers. I'm not too happy with the decision to go all guitars-n-drums minimal on most tracks here with keyboards featuring on just one track: this tends to emphasise the repetitive aspect of the music and as each track is very long, boredom on the listener's part is an ever-present hazard. All the tracks could be edited without much loss of impact or major effect on the music's structure or what it's striving to achieve, especially as the music goes up and down and then coast along (as in the last track) without much in the way of peaks or highlights you can pinpoint. Individual tracks don't sound self-contained and it's possible to hear the whole album in one hit as one whole work of four related parts. That could very well have been the intention here.
There's some great music here especially around the halfway point of that last track "Urmae Copistrum ..." with that psych pop rock part but the whole album could have been better with more atmosphere to give individual tracks and the entire work more of a distinct self-contained feel.