There is a small list of metal bands that changed everything. They didn’t hit all at once, of course, but their presence in the era in which they originated helped spawn a tidal wave of like-minded musicians who responded to the artists’ ways and found their own creative calling.
Of course, Black Sabbath were the originators, the godfathers of all heavy metal and the one act cited by just about every genre as being a starting point or at least a major influence. Then you had Judas Priest and Iron Maiden that brought in the more theatrical, power-laden styles of metal and made it OK to fantasize and have spectacular dreams. And of course, you have Metallica and Slayer, who made it acceptable and almost necessary to do things as heavily and aggressively as possible. Of course, Metallica fell off that wagon over time, but Slayer still spills the blood. Then there’s Death, Bathory, Hellhammer, Mayhem, and others with death and black metal.
In the 1990s Neurosis, a band born in Oakland, Calif., came to power, and they combined elements of everything listed above but also took things to the stratosphere. They weren’t afraid to weave long, poetic sections of music together, they were more ambitious than most of the other bands of their era, and they gave birth to something completely different that’s still inspiring bands to this day. In fact, their presence gave birth to ISIS, also a heavily influential band that was sparked by its members’ love of Neurosis. Nowadays, I probably get more promos from metal bands that worship at the Neurosis altar than any other band, and while many give it a gallant effort and even produce good music, no one ever comes close to the masters. And no one likely ever will.
Neurosis also arrived at a time when mainstream metal was on its way to hell. Nu-metal was born, a scourge that plagues us to this day, albeit not in the same horrible volume as before, and your main festival Ozzfest was chock full of that garbage. But they also had Neurosis play their second stage before, and while I didn’t get to see them on that tour, I can imagine the mind fuck going on with a bunch of sweaty kids waiting for dreadlocks, rap over metal, and god-awful, downtuned, gunky guitars. Neurosis were way ahead of their time.
The band’s roots actually can be traced to the 1980s, when metal still was at an apex and was nowhere near its downward spiral domestically. Their first record “Pain of Mind” was released in 1987 on Alchemy Records, but it wasn’t really until 1992’s “Souls at Zero” (one of my favorite albums of all time) where their gears started moving toward the beast they would become. They released records fairly regularly during the 1990s, jumping from Alternative Tentacles to Relapse, and offering up classics such as “Enemy of the Sun” and “Through Silver and Blood.” Once 2000 hit, their output was less frequent, popping up every three years or so. Eventually, they started releasing music on their own Neurot, most notably their last album “Given to the Rising” in 2007, and now they’re back with their 10th full-length effort “Honor Found in Decay.” It was a long five-year wait for this platter, but as usual, it was totally worth it.
Most of what you’ve come to expect from Neurosis the last couple of releases is intact, with sludgy, doomy epics, growl-speak vocals, and tons of atmosphere, but they also go back to some of their folk-influenced music, as they dash in some European and Americana influences. That’s not a shock considering some of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till’s side work away from the band, and it mixes in just nicely, adding strains of earthiness and forestal majesty that fill your lungs with adventure.
“Honor Found in Decay” is a sprawling, aggressive collection that requires your undivided attention and commitment to their emotional display. The band — guitarists/vocalists Kelly and Von Till, bassist Dave Edwardson, synth player Noah Landis, drummer Jason Roeder, and visual director Josh Graham (of the great A Storm of Light, and who also designed the cover art and packaging) — find a way again and again to dig into the deepest valleys and also reach enormous, surging heights. The record is comprised of seven excellent songs that are some of their best in a decade, and at 61 minutes, you’re guaranteed to be physically and emotionally exhausted when it finally expires. As noted before, these guys are the masters, and this record leaves no doubt about that.
“We All Rage in Gold” opens the collection on a calculated note, as the melody is pulled back and the tempo is more like a rock song. The lyrics imagine cleansing one of blood in a river, with a howl of, “Death was my first companion,” sending chills down the spine. “At the Well” runs 10 minutes, and the vocal work reminds me of Tom Waits. This cut feels solemn and bleak for the most part, with heavy atmosphere and some bagpipes, but all of a sudden the thing ignites into a full rage, with emotion overflowing. “My Heart for Deliverance” runs 11:41 and has more strains of Euro folk, with strings, whistles, and organic energy. It’s also rich with doom and mud but also has some Southern rock richness to the guitars. It’s a great, all-inclusive song.
“Bleed the Pig” is slow-driving and also full of whirry keys, and it, too, explodes after too long with tribal drumming and animalistic aggression. “Casting of the Ages” is another challenger, with some folkish guitars, harmonica, and hints of Americana, but that all eventually melts into mechanical storming and noise buzzing, melting its traditional roots into a steely muck. “All Is Found … In Time” picks up where “Ages” left off, with a cacophony of chaos, but eventually a groove settles in, trippy, space-age sludge rolls out, and the line, “Cracking the bones to get to the marrow,” gives you a full indication of the mental, soulful exploration behind this song. Closer “Raise the Dawn” is full of whispers and lurching, somber doom, some banjo plucking, and more folk tendencies, giving a rustic conclusion to this devastating, soul-bruising album.
Neurosis are just as vital to metal today as ever. Their disciples are numerous, their influence is immeasurable, and their legend will outlive them. And unlike most other bands that have had the impact this band has, they’ve had a strong lineage of music to show for it. “Honor Found in Decay” can be put up against anything else in the band’s catalog and logically stand against past efforts. This band shows no sign of letting up, and it’s unlikely to be their final universe-altering statement.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.neurosis.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030
For more on the label, go here: http://www.neurotrecordings.com/