Auckland, New Zealand three-piece NIISA describe their music as, “damp dank dark doom drone”, and that’s a pretty accurate summation of the trio’s often spellbinding sound. NIISA’s full-length debut, NIISO, consists of 10 tracks, and half a dozen of those songs are lengthy, dramatic and heavyweight crashing drones. NIISO features plenty of bewitching and ominous sounds, and mountains of amp-melting noise, and if you’re on the hunt for immersive soundscapes featuring sunlit and stormy passages, then I’d recommend NIISO in a heartbeat.
That said, if drawn-out drones or the aesthetic hallmarks of circuitous rock have caused you concern in the past, then you’d best look elsewhere for musical thrills. NIISO doesn’t take the most direct route to any destination. Mind you, that’s also kinda the point here. Because it’s the undulating scenery along the way that offers the album’s most intoxicating moments.
Parts of NIISO remind me of the lurching doom ’n’ drone of French band Monarch — particularly in the latter stages of heaving and hard-hitting album tracks like “ORRIS ROOT” and “IOIAD”. However, NIISA are equally capable of painting more delicately shaded scenes: see evocative opening track “NIIASA || OBIT FOR WILLIAM” or the equally sublime “THORN”.
At times, NIISA sound like an even earthier Earth. There’s dirt on the floor here, and the echoes of landscapes are ever present. And tracks like “DURRIE HILL” and “PRIMORDIAL FOOL” reverberate with sludgier, gut-felt histrionics, placing a grimier and more distorting resonance at the forefront of the band’s sound.
NIISO ends on the 17-minute “GRAVE I + II”, and the epic-length two-part track showcases the breadth of NIISA’s creative spectrum. The band sculpts waves of ethereal music to set the track up, before they deliver an intense deluge of filthy doom to finish the album on an ear-piercing — hell, a fucking skull-crushing — note.
NIISO was partially recorded at Bruce Farm and engineered and mixed by Elliot S. Lawless from droney post rockers Greenfog. (NIISA features members from Greenfog and fellow Auckland band Caroles.) Much like Greenfog’s fantastic full-length LP, which was also recorded at Bruce Farm (and titled the same), NIISO captures a strong sense of its recording environment in its mesmeric sound. The album also displays abundant guitar and percussion burliness, when and where it’s required, and the subtle mix of delicate drone with far dirtier and coarser-edged doom is balanced incredibly well on NIISO, most of the time.
The album has a couple of transitions that feel a little more disjointed when the band step up the pace or increase the sonic weight. Also, drone is a hard sell at the best of times, so while I might hear (and enjoy) the spontaneous sonic adventuring found on a track like “NIIJA || DIALEIMMA”, others might easily hear mere meandering.
NIISO is a very accomplished debut overall though. And that raises another issue, because it’s one of those great underground NZ releases that just appears online without fanfare, and I’d hate to see the album disappear without getting its fair dues. NIISA’s music is genuinely impressive, but there’s not a huge crossover audience in NZ for a band riding the line between droning rock and off-kilter metal.
NIISA do bring plenty of heft to the table, but they’re really not a metal band, even if they deliver Electric Wizard or Sunn O))) sized riffs. Nor does the band simply rely on post rock's soft/loud dynamic to build tension. And there’s enough cosmic grunt here to push their drone into more pysch-fuelled pastures. NIISA's formula is unique, and originality is always appreciated, but the commercial reality of making niche music in NZ remains a tough one.
Admittedly, I doubt NIISA are concerned about chart placements. But they are the perfect example of why the onus is often on you/me/us to keep shouting about enthralling bands as loud as we can. Doubly so when those bands in question reside on the fringes — both creatively and geographically. (Unless, of course, you want to keep the whole thing secret — which I get, too.)
In the end, there’s a huge distance and a whole of lot of noise between NZ and the rest of the world. And it would be a real shame if NIISA weren’t able to be heard and experienced by the widest possible audience. NIISO certainly warrants that exposure, and any subsequent praise, because the album’s hypnotic depths and resonant rawness emphasise that NIISA have a lot of innate vitality about them.
NIISO’s transfixing drones pulse with dark, gritty, and organic energy. Meaning NIISO feels alive and acutely expressive. Cassette copies of the album are expected at some point in the future — and I’ll keep you updated on that. In the meantime, NIISO is available digitally on Bandcamp. See below to secure your copy.