We’re not often is the presence of royalty these days when it comes to metal and heavy music. Part of that is there just aren’t many old guard gods left among us, so when we hear from them, it becomes a major event. The other reason is we’re just not creating those types of musicians and bands anymore.
So when you get a new record from one of these bands who are unquestioned standard-bearers, it’s practically time for genuflection and silent reflection. So if you need to do that before taking on “Fires Within Fires,” the 11th record from Neurosis, it is very much understood and expected. This band is arguably the most influential heavy music act of the past 20 years (the band itself just celebrated their third decade together), and their impact is so great, it’s impossible to measure. Remove Neurosis from music history, and you’d see bands just vanish from the planet in some sort of bizarre rapture. Without this band, there are sections of music that likely don’t exist, and any time they reveal new music, it’s something to behold.
“Fires” is one of the band’s shortest records in a long time. At five tracks and 41 minutes**, it almost seems like an EP simply because of who is involved. The band—guitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till; bassist, backing vocalist Dave Edwardson; keyboard player/sound designer Noah Landis; drummer Jason Roeder—convened in conjunction with their shows celebrating their three decades together and started hammering out new sounds and fleshing out these songs. This record, at least to me, didn’t impact me instantly. In fact, I’m still feeling my way through these songs to see how they hit me. At times, the record feels more stripped back than the onslaughts we’ve come to expect from them. It’s not nearly as huge and engulfing as their last record, 2012’s “Honor Found in Decay” and their classic works. It certainly is a good record, but sometimes it doesn’t feel full. Maybe that’s because of its length. Maybe expectations are the cause. But whatever it is, I’m still seeking its full power.
“Bending Light” begins the record with plodding pounding, the guitars taking on a liquidy feel, similar to how they were a couple decades ago, and a long, crawling stretch. Psyche keys wash into the room, and then the bottom tears out, with cries of, “This restless sea is breaking me!” smothering with tumult. Later, refrains of, “Peeling the skin away reveals the heart,” sits in chaos, which simmers until it gives way. “A Shadow Memory” boils amid clean guitars and a calculated pace, before the words are barked out as the pace pulls back. The eruption hits, with more colors poured into the guitars, the impact shaking the room, and the riffs tearing away the pieces of crumbling walls. “Slit the throats of those who light the torches!” is bellowed with conviction as noise leans in and pulls the track to its end.
“Fire Is the Lesson” starts with stirring, slurry guitars that punch deep and jar your brain inside your skull. The rhythms cross your eyes, while Von Till and Kelly trade off howling lines, making for a scary, two-headed beast. A hypnotic acoustic line blends in behind, giving the track an uncomfortable vibe. Later the song spits shrapnel, with the title warbled over and over again, and the final minutes scathing. “Broken Ground” lets sounds hover, spreading dreamland sentiment into Western dust. The song kicks up, with every element threatening, and the growls churn and breath iciness, giving off the ambiance of a cold winter afternoon spent in the wilderness. Further explosions come out of that, but all of that dissolves into psyche clouds. Closer “Reach” is the lengthiest cut at 10:37, with effects spiraling, harmonized singing bleeding emotion, and a shadowy section of land bathing in darkness. Guitars come to life, albeit during a tempo that is numbing and serene, something that feels like it’ll last the length of the song. But you know it’s a red herring, and with minutes remaining, the band crushes you with heavy riffs. Noise zaps at you, as the voices feel like they’re bound to decimate throats, as the cry of, “We will never, ever get to rest!” feeling like it could be the band’s motto and a promise that there is more terrain left to burn in the future.
Neurosis making new, relevant music is a wonderful thing, and they haven’t lost their edge. “Fires Within Fires” doesn’t instantly come off like a classic, and at this point, and I don’t feel it’s in the top half of their best work. But with each Neurosis record comes absorption, and honestly, this would be an easier review to write a year from now instead of with limited listens. Neurosis remain one of heavy music’s greatest peaks, an unattainable high-water mark for every other band. Even a good Neurosis record is better than most, and who know how this thing will grow in the months and years to come?
For more on the band, go here: http://www.neurosis.com/
To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/artists/neurosis/?no_redirect=true
For more on the label, go here: http://www.neurotrecordings.com/
**There are track listings elsewhere that have this record closer to 60 minutes with longer track times. Are we being Old Man Gloomed here? Just putting that out there.