Review: Fawn Limbs & Nadja – Vestigial Spectra
Two polar opposites combine into a whole that’s uniquely different from the sum of its parts.
Astronomy is a weird science. You can’t really perform experiments in astronomy, at least not on the scale of planets or star systems or galaxies. When researchers were trying to verify if gravitational waves exist, they couldn’t just create two massive objects and let them merge, they had scan the entire sky for decades before finding two black holes about to combine in the wild. In fact, most of the universe is moving away from us so fast that it is causally disconnected from us—which means that even if we could travel at the speed of light we’d never reach it. We will never be able to interact with it; we can only ever see images of its past. We are and probably always will be solitary, silent observers of basically the entire universe.
Despite being impossibly far away, we use the only thing we receive from the night sky—light—to determine properties like the temperature and chemical makeup of objects in space. This practice is called astronomical spectroscopy, and this arcane, technical practice is what inspired this collaboration between very experimental mathgrinders Fawn Limbs and their ambient/drone counterparts Nadja. If this seems like a odd mix of styles, you’re right—this album is weird. But for fans that connect with it, it’s definitely weird in a good way, an idiosyncratic release that couldn’t have come from any other artists.
The album is organized around the three types of light spectra used in astronomy: continuous (where light is constantly emitted, like the Sun), emission (where light is scattered moving through a gas cloud), and absorption (where some light is missing because it was absorbed or scattered). These themes are represented musically as three distinct styles on the album—cacophonous wall-of-sound grindcore, slower, contemplative instrumental transitions, and pure drone parts that act as a reprieve. At least two of these are present in most songs, from the dissonant mathy bludgeoning of “Black Body Radiation Curve” and “Distilled in Observance” to the plodding, mostly ambient drone tracks “Redshifted” and “Blueshifted”.
In case the dense theme wasn’t a giveaway, this is a challenging album to listen to. It’s an experimental journey not a focused, cohesive opus. Enjoying it will require that you invest time to give it multiple listens and more attention than you might normally give a new album. If you’re looking for straight-up grind or some nice drone to put on in the background, you’re shit out of luck here. But if you’re the kind of listener who would listen to a Yes or King Crimson album three-plus times in a row to catch the nuances, then queue up Vestigial Spectra next. It’s one of the rare metal albums that you enjoy more the more energy you invest in it.
Vestigial Spectra feels like the musical equivalent of Gravity’s Rainbow. People might dislike it because of its idiosyncrasies and the technical nature of its songs and songwriting, but those people probably don’t enjoy either Fawn Limbs or Nadja’s music in the first place. For the listeners who do connect with this album, its creativity and willingness to experiment set it apart in the ultra-dense extreme music landscape. In the diffuse space of experimental metal, Vestigial Spectra is the soundtrack to falling into a black hole. And what is a black hole but a toilet for the stars?
In the diffuse space of experimental metal, Vestigial Spectra is the soundtrack to falling into a black hole.