Over the years, the prolific Nadja have recorded a few supremely interesting heavy/doom psych albums, pushing into new territories by expanding the basic sound of the genre towards the unexpected, whether in the form of shoegaze or ambient music. Sv is no exception, crossing over to the kinds of drone made by noise musicians, going back to their roots as much as overturning them, like a new skin growing out of the old. However, this time around I think Nadja hit the nail right on the head, and made one of the most powerful drone albums of the last few years.
The title is an abbreviation of sievert, a measuring unit used to determine the amount of radiation a living tissue can withstand. It is unique, in the sense that in terms of the natural world its use would be minimal, but it is of high value to modernity, a world of harms that exist solely under the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Composed of a single 41-minute track, Sv starts out slowly and quietly, like a raga of lament, carefully layering every tone over the initial silence, as if a grave was being filled. Each new sheet of sound adds to the sense of scale, not by attempting to reach a mesmerizing enormity but by corroding the ear’s ability to distinguish the beginning or the end of a sound; there is no infinite reach to the stars, only the eternal recurrence of a sun flare, endlessly marking a moment of death. Only the present matters, inasmuch we perpetually fail to grasp it, burning tissue away with each and every attempt to do so. This is Nadja’s maximalism at its best, a thick, loud dirge that prods the mind into the unknown by completely overwhelming the senses, a magnificent drone worthy of the end of times.
While overpowering at first, after a few listens it is much easier to better notice those elements that make Sv so fierce. The most important is that the album wears a mask, a skin that cracks and fades away over time; it’s not so much that it builds up, like a post-rock record, but that it digs. Every layer is a whole, making Sv a polyphonic entity, offering various kinds of listening cues if enough attention is paid, very subtle shifts in mood and tone that cannot help but affect every other layer. After a while, the layers are set, so there is no more upwards movement, allowing the listener to wander throughout this cave environment of massive doom riffs and percussions seemingly lifted out of a ritualistic performance. This psychedelic sensation of looking in and not up is heightened by the slowdown process of the last 8 minutes or so, as if it had all been one long meditation, steadily going back to the tranquility of putting the mask on once again, to the monophonic unity of that last exhalation right before opening the eyes.
To the old fans of the band, this will be a welcome return to the more expansive, instrumental, noisy doom of their first couple albums, but there’s a seemingly paradoxical clarity here that will appeal to the fans of the newer, more ambient-inflected recordings. It’s definitely a turn for the better, a renovation that has made me very excited for whatever’s coming next. (David Murrieta)